Data protection to encourage refugee registration for COVID-19 vaccines
“None of us are safe until we all are.” So goes UN chief Antonio Guterres’ now well-worn saying about COVID-19. But despite advances in the availability of jabs against the virus, the saying still rings true, with vaccine inequality consistently making headlines worldwide.
In Lebanon, where an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees account for approximately 20% of the population, the importance of an inclusive national vaccine campaign cannot be overstated. Yet although the government has adopted a national vaccination plan that covers everyone residing in the country regardless of their nationality or residency status, there are still barriers to refugees’ full inclusion in the vaccine rollout.
With only 20% of Lebanon’s Syrian refugee population possessing the legal right to stay in the country, many refugees fear that their personal data could be leaked after registering for the vaccine, leading to their arrest, detention or deportation. To help address this barrier, Siren supported Central Inspection, one of Lebanon’s primary oversight bodies, to create a digital platform for vaccine registration that guarantees the safety and security of users’ data.
An Open Data website was also built to complement IMPACT, giving the public access to some of the non-sensitive information gathered, providing them with tools and evidence to observe, control and audit the vaccine campaign, as well as many other central and local government activities.
The use of such digital tools to enable a fair and transparent vaccination campaign is an important step to win back some trust in the public administration. But to create a truly inclusive vaccine campaign, measures to tackle the other barriers to refugee vaccination must be introduced alongside guarantees of data privacy and security. At the time of writing, only 30,749 Syrian refugees — around 2% of the total estimated Syrian refugee population — had registered for the vaccine.
Refugee vaccination numbers have clearly increased in the past weeks due to the “vaccine marathons” organised by the Health Ministry, which included volunteers to help with registration. Additional communication campaigns around the safety of the vaccine and IMPACT’s data security, and peer-to-peer awareness raising campaigns among the refugee population could help boost this further. To overcome mobility concerns, vaccination centres could also be opened in areas where large numbers of refugees reside, and greater support could be offered to people who do not have the formal documentation or literacy required to register online.