Microsoft, Mayo Clinic, Oracle among coalition to develop digital COVID-19 vaccination passport

Every immunization recipient worldwide will have access to the credential, which will speed the return to travel, school, or work.

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Image: iStock/dobled

Managing the coronavirus is finally about to get better. In New York on Thursday, a newly formed coalition of health and technology leaders announced an initiative to streamline COVID-19 tracking in the effort to allow for the return to the safety and comfort of pre-pandemic living through the development of immunization credentialing. The credentials are being referred to as "vaccination passports," conjuring up images of literal plastic and paper booklets, but will primarily be QR-code style digital certificates for smartphones.

The global goal of the Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI) is to enable those vaccinated for COVID-19 to digitally access their immunization records in an easily accessible, secure, verifiable, and privacy-preserving way and using it to provide proof to governments, travel officials, and others who soon may make this proof a requirement. The VCI coalition includes partners such as Microsoft, the Mayo Clinic, and Oracle, among others. 

The challenge the VCI faces is that the current vaccination record system does not support convenient access, control, sharing, and standardization of verifiable vaccination records. 

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The announcement emphasized: "Trustworthy, traceable, verifiable, and universally recognized digital record of vaccination status is urgently needed worldwide to safely enable people to return to work, school, events, and travel."

"We are kicking off the most significant vaccination effort in the history of the United States. Now more than ever, individuals need access to their own vaccination and health information in a portable format to begin to move about the country safely and comfortably," said Ryan Howells, principal, Leavitt Partners, and program manager of the CARIN Alliance, a coalition partner. 

Another coalition partner, The Commons Project, developed health-sharing apps CommonHealth (sharing personal health information) and CommonPass (secure and verifiable way to document health status while traveling). 

"VCI coalition members are working to enable digital access to vaccination records using the open, interoperable SMART Health Cards specification," the announcement noted. "VCI's vision is to empower individuals to obtain an encrypted digital copy of their immunization credentials to store in a digital wallet of their choice. Those without smartphones could receive paper printed with QR codes containing W3C verifiable credentials"

The coalition is working with the World Health Organization and the partners want to be clear that the certification will be available to everyone, worldwide. "As we explore the many use cases for the vaccination credential, we are working to ensure that underserved populations have access to this verification," said Brian Anderson, MD, chief digital health physician at coalition member MITRE. 

"Just as COVID-19 does not discriminate based on socio-economic status, we must ensure that convenient access to records crosses the digital divide." They have every intention, Anderson said, "to deliver an open-source credential."

The Broad Coalition of Health and Technology Industry added that additional coalition partners not previously mentioned include Cerner, Change Healthcare, The Commons Project Foundation, Epic, Evernorth, Safe Health, and Salesforce.

"Open standards and interoperability are at the heart of VCI's efforts and we look forward to supporting the World Health Organization and other global stakeholders in implementing and scaling open global standards for health data interoperability," said Paul Meyer, CEO of the nonprofit, public trust The Commons Project Foundation, which aims to "unlock the full potential of technology and data for the common good."

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