The sluggish rollout of COVID-19 vaccines so far has many causes, but one of the biggest has been a suboptimal infrastructure for coordination and record-keeping. A new coalition of some of the biggest healthcare and technology organizations is hoping to change that, and quickly.
WHY IT MATTERS
The new Vaccination Credential Initiative announced Thursday is bringing together a wide array of stakeholders – CARIN Alliance, Cerner, Change Healthcare, the Commons Project Foundation, Epic, Evernorth, Mayo Clinic, Microsoft, MITRE, Oracle, Safe Health, and Salesforce – to work together on a new approach.
The widely varied public and private organizations say they’ll collaborate on developing a standard model for organizations administering COVID-19 vaccines – helping to create a “trustworthy, traceable, verifiable, and universally recognized digital record of vaccination status.”
The goal is to leverage open and interoperable standards to ensure vaccinations and securely demonstrate patients’ vaccine status to enable safer return to a new normal.
Participating organizations will agree to offer individuals with digital access to their vaccination records using the open, interoperable SMART Health Cards specification based on W3C Verifiable Credential and HL7 FHIR standards, according to VCI.
A common registry of issuers, along with these SMART Health Cards – accessible via digital wallet apps or QR codes – will build toward a nationwide system that more readily enables verifiable vaccination records to be accessed, controlled and shared.
“We are kicking off the most significant vaccination effort in the history of the United States,” said Ryan Howells, principal, Leavitt Partners and program manager of the CARIN Alliance, in a statement. “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.”
“This process needs to be as easy as online banking,” added Mike Sicilia, executive vice president of Oracle’s Global Business Units.
Dr. Brian Anderson, chief digital health physician at MITRE, said health equity has to be a major priority as vaccines proliferate.
“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 Anderson in a statement. “Just as COVID-19 does not discriminate based on socioeconomic status, we must ensure that convenient access to records crosses the digital divide.”
The hope to continue to expand with new use cases based on the infrastructure being built.
For instance, Ken Mayer, founder and CEO of Safe Health, noted that expanded availability of cheaper smartphone-enabled rapid tests recently authorized by FDA could, together with VCI standards, “enable application developers to create privacy-preserving health status verification solutions that can be seamlessly integrated into existing ticketing workflows.
He said the company is working with Hedera to “develop a blockchain-enabled crowd safety solution using the VCI standards designed to help get concerts and sporting events going again.”
More information about VCI can be found at vaccinationcredential.org.
THE LARGER TREND
It’s been apparent since the first COVID-19 vaccines were approved, of course, that the technology and data-sharing infrastructure in the U.S. was not up to the task of managing their rollout and record-keeping. System failures have already led to significant slowdowns in some states.
Without adequate federal support, state and local healthcare have been forced to think creatively about how to manage these complex demands – sometimes even turning to “off-label” use of certain platforms that could pose serious privacy and security risks.
That said, there does exist a robust network of electronic health record systems nationwide, and vendors such as Cerner and Epic have been working for months to optimize their EHRs for the challenges of vaccine distribution.
We recently asked those vendors – along with Allscripts, athenahealth, DrChrono, Greenway Health, Meditech and NextGen – how they’re tweaking their systems to better enable complex immunization record-keeping for their customers.
ON THE RECORD
“Cerner is already providing tools to clinics, hospitals and other venues that provide healthcare to support the rapid COVID-19 vaccination process and ensure a safe, streamlined experience,” said David Bradshaw, senior vice president of consumer and employer solutions at Cerner.
The Vaccine Credential Initiative, he said, “will grow the standards around data exchange and help patients have access to and easily share verified vaccination information via their mobile device in situations where proof-of-vaccine is necessary.”