Apple revamps syringe emoji for Covid vaccines

Apple is changing its syringe emoji to remove the dripping blood, as it becomes widely used to talk about the Covid-19 vaccine.

Apple’s new version has nothing inside the needle.

“This makes the emoji more versatile when used to describe Covid-19 vaccination,” explained Emojipedia, a site that catalogues the icons.

The site reports a surge in the use of the syringe emoji last year to talk about the Covid vaccine.

Emojipedia said that while the syringe was once associated with blood donation, it saw a noticeable shift to it being used for vaccinations, alongside other emoji such as a face mask or a microbe.

By December, the icon had become associated with words such as “vaccine”, “Covid-19”, “Pfizer”, and “Moderna”, it said.

View original tweet on Twitter

Apple has not officially made any comment on the revised graphic.

But the change was discovered in the beta version for Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 14.5, which is likely to be available to ordinary users soon.

New emojis must be approved by industry body the Unicode consortium – but existing ones are designed slightly differently by companies such as Apple, making tweaks possible.

Google’s Android has not announced any similar changes, but the major software makers usually converge on a similar design.

In 2016, Apple changed the pistol emoji from a handgun to a water pistol, with Google, Samsung, Microsoft and others eventually following suit.

No entry for apps

The change comes as Apple also placed limitations on developers building “vaccine passport” apps – ones that entitle the bearer access to somewhere based on a Covid test or vaccine.

It said it had noticed an increase in such apps that generate “passes” used to access locations or services.

But such apps will no longer be allowed unless they are working with recognised public health authorities or companies associated with them.

That includes “test kit manufacturers, laboratories, or healthcare providers” as well as government and medical institutions, Apple said.

The change is designed “to ensure these apps responsibly handle sensitive data and provide reliable functionality”.

It is the latest hurdle for so-called vaccine passports, which have long been proposed as an eventual alternative solution to lockdowns.

But on Wednesday, UK think tank the Ada Lovelace Institute, which looks at how big data affects society, warned that such a system could present a host of issues.

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Analysis box by Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent

There appears to be growing momentum for a “no jab, no job” policy among some employers, but it’s quite unlikely to happen in the short term and here’s why. 

There are a host of technical, legal and political challenges for any company wanting to know about the vaccine status of their staff or customers. First, there is no officially recognised vaccine passport or certificate out there – and there is unlikely to be one until the government gives the go-ahead for any scheme to get access to NHS records. 

The Ada Lovelace Institute’s report today warns against rushing out vaccine passports before there is clear evidence that a vaccinated person cannot pass on Covid-19 to someone else. Even when there is evidence, the report warns such a scheme could exacerbate mistrust in vaccines by making them appear mandatory. 

Lawyers say that treating employees who haven’t been vaccinated differently could amount to discrimination, and data protection specialists say demanding to know someone’s vaccine status may be against the law.

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