Digital Vaccine Cards: Is This the Answer to Verifying Vaccinations?


February 19th, 2021

Could a digital vaccine card be the passport for the future? It’s a conversation happening right now as a means to verify that someone received the vaccine.

digital vaccine card

The last year in healthcare has been one of strain and challenges. In such a short time, there’s been years of innovation to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine and facilitate better care. The tie between healthcare and technology is stronger than ever. So with conversations about digital vaccine cards—is this a way to verify vaccinations while also ensuring the security and confidentiality of patient records?

Vaccine Rollouts Are Ramping Up

The initial vaccine rollout was slow. Now government agencies are developing partnerships with providers to ensure it goes faster and smoother. One of the most important relationships is with pharmacists, a group of clinicians that have been on the front lines since day one. 

Currently, as most of you have seen, patients receive a paper card with vaccination information. The healthcare ecosystem and consumers are expressing a collective sigh regarding paper-based records. After all, we all carry around little computers that enable users to complete many secure tasks. Yet here we are with paper again. However, there are innovators out there trying to turn this digital. 

Verifying Vaccinations Is Both a Complex and Simple Problem

Transmitting verifiable information through secure tunnels and layers of trust isn’t new. These transactions occur every day in healthcare, finance, and many other use cases. Implementing is the real problem. The U.S. healthcare system is fragmented. There are multiple stakeholders, which creates challenges. Interoperability and data exchange are real barriers that impair innovation and better solutions. 

The other big problem with a digital vaccine card deployment is that there’s no definitive answer on where people will use it. Will you need it to board a flight? Enter a healthcare facility? Attend an event? 

With uncertainty, a system must be flexible to accommodate many outcomes. 

Who Are the Parties?

Another aspect of the complexity is the many parties involved in the process. First are the holders or patients. Then there’s the central authority or issuer, which would be the healthcare provider or government entity. Then there’s the verifying party, which could be a lot of different groups, as noted above. The move to require vaccines for certain activities is likely coming. Some airlines are already mandating it, and many other organizations may as well, as long as they are legally able to do so. 

Further, in this very big picture, the solution must be global. That’s extremely difficult, but not impossible. The world has standardization around some verifiable documentation like passports. 

Where the Process Is

The pathway to creating digital vaccine cards is in motion. A coalition is working on SMART health cards that will include encrypted vaccine records. Members include Cerner, Epic, the Mayo Clinic, Microsoft, Oracle, and Salesforce. That’s an impressive group mixing technology and healthcare. 

Any concerns about the security of these digital vaccine cards are also top of mind. Cryptographic protocols are already in existence to protect sensitive data. The biggest constraint is infrastructure. It’s going to require software to integrate healthcare records and appointment platforms. That’s going to be much more expensive than the current paper-based method. The roots of this concern are the systemic issue in healthcare regarding data sharing. This is a moment where the world of healthcare could see a huge leap forward. 

Are Digital Vaccine Cards the Answer?

There are many pros to this approach, but there are obstacles ahead. Embracing technology typically translates to positives for people and organizations. It will be exciting to see what happens next. We’ll keep tracking this story and its progress. 

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