There is this internationally recognised physical proof of vaccination. Earlier this year, the Dutch health ministry said it won’t be used for registration of Dutch COVID-19 vaccinations. Why not? Well, an app was on the way.

The ministry was somewhat right. There wasn’t international agreement about use of that physical card for covid vaccinations. But there were other authorities, like the German government, that already accepted it. There was a use case. The EU Digital Covid Certificate, that the ministry put their money on, does sound promising. And it’s standardised across the EU.

But the dismissal of the paper proof, I feel, is a case of “solutionism”: you work on one solution for a problem, then forget there may be other ways to solve it, too. Why is that an issue? Multiple layers of solutions often work better. Especially if the dismissed is something physical and the new solution is some fancy new technology (see also: tech stacks on the web).

Don’t get me wrong, I like apps (though I prefer web apps). I work in technology. I like technology, and all the advancements it brings us. But as websites are best built from the simplest part of the stack outwards—HTML first, the rest later—something similar goes for including technology in society.

One of the powers of progressive enhancement is that it lets you cover use cases you didn’t know existed. Did your user’s JS download fail as they lost connection in a train tunnel? No biggie, you didn’t uniquely rely on JS, you didn’t assume it, it was just one of your layers.

A paper proof of vaccination could be a sensible baseline, on top of which more demanding technological solutions could be built. Demanding in the sense that they require digital literacy, smartphone ownership and what not. For some, the paper proof was their only way to enter the country they worked, especially if that was a country outside the EU. Paper proofs have their benefits and their problems, so do digital proofs.

IRL progressive enhancement is quite common when you think of it. You can board planes with paper boarding cards, but also with technology like QR codes and digital wallets. You can pay for a coffee with cash, card or phone. The variety serves diverse sets of people. Just like in web development, not dismissing the baseline lets us cover use cases we didn’t know existed. It is fragile, though: some manager somewhere probably has a fantasy about replacing everything with fancy tech and fancy tech only. (In fact… it’s quite common for shops not to accept cash where I live)

Just recently, the Dutch health ministry turned around and changed their guidance: the paper proof of vaccination will now be stamped for those who ask. In a different context, a service from that same ministry now offers a way to print a QR code to gain access to events following a recent corona infection, negative test or vaccination. Folks can use the app if they want to. Heck, the app is probably more convenient for many, but at least there is a paper fallback. Yay!

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