Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday vaccine passes will be available to download this week but had little response when asked about how people without New Zealand or Australian identification documents can sign up

This has been an issue for several weeks. 

My Covid Record, the online service that will provide QR code vaccine passes for domestic and international use, requires logging in using the Ministry of Health’s My Health platform.

You can only sign up with six forms of NZ or Aussie ID. Those with international passports, including permanent NZ residents, must log in to My Covid Record using RealMe, the government’s verified identity service. 

Verifying a RealMe account with foreign ID requires physically going to a participating photo store such as an AA centre to have your photo taken and ID matched. Verification then takes a further five working days.

In level 3, step 1 lockdown, all AA stores were closed. Such holes in the system leave people behind.

I asked the ministry of health about this issue almost a month ago.

Group manager national digital services Michael Dreyer had little to say other than to confirm it was true. 

Asked by media Monday about how those without NZ or Australian ID can get vaccine passes, Ardern said, “the Ministry of Health have tried to make sure that they balance the fact that you will need to demonstrate you are who you are”.

Right now, if you don't have a verified RealMe account, the answer actually is, “sign up with RealMe, apply to verify your account online with ID, then take your ID to an AA centre with your customer number, then wait five working days”.

That’s a massive faff, but it’s a fact. This has not been adequately conveyed to the public.

“Our inability to dock into another country's driver's licencing system or birth certification system makes it a little bit more difficult. But of course, we will need to make sure that there are provisions for individuals who don't have those documents to be able to access their vaccine certificate,” Ardern said.

Some have had to work this out by themselves, or not at all. It is worrying there is no clear public messaging on this issue for the thousands of New Zealanders the same week vaccine passes are set to become available.

Spell it out

Vaccine passes won’t come into use until NZ moves to the new covid-19 protection framework and the traffic light alert system, but signing up to My Covid Record is proving difficult for others, too.

It’s confusing enough that to get access to the vaccine pass service dubbed My Vaccine Pass, one must sign up to My Covid Record, a service you must log into with a My Health Pass (or RealMe). 

The chain of services is hard to explain to the most tech-savvy. What of those with less digital literacy, or those without access to a smartphone or computer?

“What we're also working through is the ability for someone to access a vaccine certificate without having to use the web-based forms. So, the ability, for instance, to use in-person ways to access a certificate in case there are issues with people's access to online tools,” Ardern said Monday.

Dreyer told me last month an 0800 number will be used to help people sign up, but this and other face-to-face alternatives will only be running when passes are available. 

“One of the things that I discussed recently was ensuring that those face-to-face options were ready to go at the same, you know, prior to us moving into the framework, and that's the assurance I've been given,” Ardern said.

There are other issues. An email address is needed to sign up to My Covid Record, ruling out online sign ups for those without one, or one-half of the many couples who share a single email address.

A reader got in touch to say the ministry’s official advice on this issue was to create a new email address. But should people have to do this to access a critical vaccine pass?

I have heard from others rightly uncertain about the sign up methods. Being sent emails with codes for two-factor authentication, as signing up to My Health for the first time requires, do tend to look rather like spam to people who aren’t used to them.

Leaving aside the ethics of vaccine passes, where is the public awareness campaign to explain how to get them? Last Tuesday, only 772,000 people had signed up, which at the time was less than 25% of everyone who had been double jabbed.

Many of my friends haven’t done it, some colleagues were unaware. A lot of people know they are coming, but sign ups are worryingly low. 

Do people walking into shops freely in level 2 even know they will soon have to present a QR code to enter those exact same shops?

The tech is not always the problem

The technology behind vaccine passes themselves looks more than sound. We will end up calling the domestic ones ‘passes’ as they show we are vaccinated and allow us into venues, and the international ones ‘certificates’ as they include more personal identifiable information for international travel verification. 

This is the correct decision, and it’s good to see the government and Ministry of Health make the decision to put less personal identifiable data in the domestic passes. 

But the online sign up system is confusing for many people the first time they interact with it. You have to sign up to at least two services, and if you don’t have the right ID, you face a perplexing verification hurdle.

If you don’t have a phone, you can print out your QR code – but how will you sign up in the first place if you don’t have a phone or computer?

The vaccine pass system will end up working on a technological level, but the roll out has been confusing and under-communicated. The proof is in the sign up numbers.