Keeva Seegobin wanted to find a way to encourage Trinidad and Tobago to be vaccinated against the covid19 virus, and decided that wristbands would help. He wanted people to wear bands with the word "Vaccinated" on them.
But when the covid19 vaccines came to TT, he realised that idea could be applied to vaccine verification.
That is how he came up with the service Verifyvaccinated.com.
As TT introduces the concept of safe zones, Seegobin believes this is a great way for those businesses that will fall within the safe zones to tell who is vaccinated and who isn't.
The TT Safe Zone initiative launched on October 11 will allow fully-vaccinated people to access cinemas, bars, restaurants, gyms, casinos and water parks.
These spaces were closed in an effort to fight the pandemic. Under the safe-zone initiative, there are rules for employees of safe-zone businesses as well as customers.
Employees of safe-zone businesses must be fully vaccinated, and must have copies of their vaccination cards on the premises and available for inspection by authorities, the Government said on the Ministry of Health's website.
Customers must also have proof of vaccination and a form of valid photo ID at all times.
People who have an authentic medical exemption/deferral certificate and the required negative PCR test, as set out in the public health covid19 regulations, may also be permitted within a safe zone, the website said.
Seegobin said it was impractical for citizens to be walking around with vaccination cards, even if they were laminated. He said digital technology enabled a simpler way of verifying vaccination and that is where his service comes in.
Verifyvaccinated is a third-party website, and the silicone band sold by Seegobin and his team has a QR code which takes safe-zone businesses to the website. A Quick Response (QR) code is a pattern of black and white squares that can be read by a smartphone, allowing the phone user to get more information about something.
Each individual will have a unique alphanumeric code that contains their vaccine status and/or medical information such as blood type.
The code is engraved on the band, Seegobin said. To verify one's vaccination status, a business or person would simply need to enter an individual's code on the website, and that person's vaccination status will be retrieved. This makes checking one's vaccine status easier and an individual does not have to walk around with the physical immunisation card.
Seegobin told Newsday verifyvaccinated.com was a project he started in April or May.
Seeing the toll the pandemic took on TT was truly scary for him. When the world was introduced to the covid19 vaccines, he anticipated there would be some level of hesitancy.
“At that time I started to promote it as much as I can…When we got the Sinopharm, people were hesitant here, but one of my friends in Abu Dhabi said he had taken it in January and he looked at the pros and cons and all of that.
“I had taken his advice and was trying to get the information out, because the information was not out there about the vaccines as much as it should be. I wanted to do my part in promoting vaccination.”
Also at that time, people started talking about the possibility of safe zones or vaccine passports, he said.
Initially, Seegobin thought the bands would be like “a little bit of candy, like a fad” that would encourage vaccination.
“But then I started thinking about it and I said, ‘But anyone could get it.’ How do I differentiate who is vaccinated or not?”
This started the development of Verifyvaccinated.com.
Seegobin does not have a background in technology, but is a helicopter pilot with the Ministry of National Security and assists in running his family’s publishing business.
The 39-year-old from Cunupia said Verifyvaccinated.com works with Cyberline Solutions, Design Den TT and Connective Pros.
While it initially thought of an app, the group decided to go with a website instead because it allows for greater security.
"Anyone can access it once you have access to the internet.”
A visit to the company’s website does not yield a lot of information. Seegobin said this was because it was in the business of protecting information and not giving it out.
It takes approximately three-five days from the time one applies to receive the band.
He added that the company does not ask for a lot of mandatory information: date of birth; vaccination card; phone number; and e-mail address.
The phone number is only for delivery, and as soon as the business gets its pick-up points on stream it hopes to eliminate that, he said.
He acknowledges people might have security concerns, but added, “For me, I am not even on social media. I have a lot of problems in terms of sharing my information and keeping things out there because of my security background. I don’t really want people knowing a whole a lot about me.
"Then I started thinking about it and realised there might be other people who are like me and might be afraid of sharing of information and all that. I just figured I could do it better,” Seegobin said.
While the Government is working, and he does applaud them for that, he felt it was not a very comfortable situation to have safe zones from October 11 but no digital government system in place until November. However, the Government introduced the TT Safe Zone certificates which are downloadable signage which states the dos and donts of being in the safe zone and businesses displaying the signage certify that they are compliant with the TT Safe Zone rules.
The Government does plan to input its covid19 vaccination data in its database, AG Faris Al-Rawi said in Newsday article on October 2.
He also then said in about six-eight weeks, that system will be up where people can have their vaccination status on the phone with a QR code to scan.
For Seegobin that is a "big gap" which creates discomfort for citizens.
He said there are also approximately 25,000 people who were vaccinated outside TT and the Government will not have access to their forms, so how does it intend to validate them?
Seegobin and his team are using the vaccination cards as proof of vaccination.
“If this person submits a card, we can then look at that country’s card and see if it matches up and validate it or not. That is the only way anyone can do it. Not only in TT but abroad,” Seegobin said.
“In Canada you have to upload your information, the same way you have to upload it to our site.
“There will be loopholes where someone will have a falsified document. We will not be 100 per cent able to verify that it is not a false document. There are certain things that we will look for. But even in TT there are no standardised vaccinated cards. I have seen four different types of vaccination cards for TT.”
Verifyvaccinated.com has also gained interest from multinational organisations. Seegobin was reluctant to give the names of those organisations just yet.
He said, however, that no one is just “rubber-stamped.”
The company goes through every bit of information with a fine-tooth comb, he said.
“We have to go through individually. That is why it is a lot of labour-intensive work,” he said.
And not only does he want to help with the problem of vaccine verification but he also hopes to generate employment through his company.
“As the work load goes up, I do have some friends who are unemployed, who were previously national security employees...for the last maybe 15 years – some from the cyber department, some from Strategic Services Agency (SSA) – who I will use.”
He said they were no longer part of the Government and had the skill and understanding to do the job.
To keep people’s information safe among his employees, Seegobin says the company explicitly states what its intentions are with its application process.
“Before I actually engage anyone, they will be signing non-disclosure agreements plus a myriad of other legal documents.”
Seegobin said there was already a legal department in place because someone else with the idea made legal attempts to stop his company from carrying out its plan.
He tries to do everything has properly as he can, he said.
“My whole mantra is to help people, to help TT. By employing people that I know are unemployed and based on the sacrifices they have made to serve their country…if I can give them jobs that is also helping my country.”
The company contacted the Health Ministry on October 2 but has not heard back from it as yet but it is willing to partner with the Government. The company said it received a reply from the Ministry of Digital Transformation saying it received the letter sent on October 11.
He has been asked if the service is Ministry of Health-approved but he said there is no approval process that he is aware of companies seeking to provide digital vaccination verification and that leaves it as a grey area where it is open.
Seegobin said Legal Notice 247 of the Public Health Regulations updated on October 3 states that only vaccinated people aged 12 and over, on presenting a valid vaccination card or a copy of one, can enter the safe zones.
He said this allows for the use of services like verifyvaccinated.com since it states that a valid vaccination card or a copy of one will allow for entry into the safe zones. Services like verifyvaccinated.com can act as copies of the vaccination cards.
He initially thought the Government would only allow vaccination cards.
Seegobin is also offering discounts to safe-zone businesses and their patrons to encourage them to use the service.
He said he contacted the Barkeepers and Operators Association of TT (BOATT) but has not heard back from it as yet at the time of writing.
Safe-zone businesses will be given half price for them and all of their employees, he added.
“We are also going to give them a sticker on the outside that would say their employees are vaccinated and the service is accepted there.”
The company is also offering a 20 per cent discount to customers of safe-zone businesses.
“So if they come through us, we will give them a coupon code, they will then give it out to their customers,” he added.
The bands that come with the company’s logo, the medical logo and that says vaccinated were imported from China. The engraving of the unique code is done by the company.
There are currently 400 to 500 people in TT with the bands.
The bands still carry Seegobin’s initial message of being vaccinated.