Microsoft, Epic, Mayo Clinic join effort to accelerate digital COVID-19 vaccine records

three smartphones with screenshots of digital COVID-19 vaccination records
A cross-industry coalition is working to create technology standards that will enable individuals to have digital access to their vaccination records. (Commons Project Foundation)

Big names in tech and healthcare including the Mayo Clinic, Cigna's Evernorth and Microsoft are teaming up to create a digital COVID-19 vaccination passport.

The Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI) will work to create technology standards that will enable individuals to have digital access to their vaccination records.

The cross-industry coalition includes health IT heavy hitters Epic, Cerner and Change Healthcare along with tech giants and healthcare companies Mitre, Oracle, Safe Health, Salesforce, the Carin Alliance and The Commons Project Foundation.

The current vaccination record system does not readily support convenient access, control and sharing of verifiable vaccination records.

The coalition is developing a standard model for organizations administering COVID-19 vaccines to make credentials available in an accessible, interoperable, digital format. 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, the organization said.

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The effort will focus on using existing standards already in use in digital health programs, like the SMART Health Cards specification, which adheres to HL7 FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources).

Consumers may soon be required to show their coronavirus vaccination status in order to fly or enter stadiums or other large venues. Health passports would help facilitate this, and the coalition's work aims to help individuals obtain an encrypted digital copy of their immunization credentials to store in a digital wallet, the organization said.

Those without smartphones could receive paper printed with QR codes containing W3C verifiable credentials.

There are other efforts underway to help start global travel, such as the CommonPass mobile app. Created by the Commons Project Foundation and the World Economic Forum, the digital health pass was developed to enable travelers to share their COVID-19 test status across borders using a trusted framework for the first time. Five airlines began rolling out the mobile app in December.

“As the world begins to recover from the pandemic, having electronic access to vaccination, testing, and other medical records will be vital to resuming travel and more,” said Mike Sicilia, executive vice president of Oracle’s global business units. “This process needs to be as easy as online banking. We are committed to working collectively with the technology and medical communities, as well as global governments, to ensure people will have secure access to this information where and when they need it.”

Brian Anderson, M.D., chief digital health physician at Mitre, said the initiative also will focus on ensuring that underserved populations have access to the verification.

"Just as COVID-19 does not discriminate based on socio-economic status, we must ensure that convenient access to records crosses the digital divide," Anderson said.

RELATED: Mayo Clinic, startup launch 'health passport' app with initial focus on COVID-19

“A secure, convenient solution to verify COVID-19 vaccination will play an important role in accelerating a healthy and safe return to work, school, and life in general,” said Joan Harvey, president of care solutions at Evernorth, Cigna’s health services business. “Evernorth is helping to lead this important work because the digital vaccine certification made possible by this collaboration will put people in charge of their own health data through innovative technology. It furthers our mission to tackle healthcare’s biggest challenges.”

Ken Mayer, founder and CEO of Safe Health, said the standards being developed by the VCI, combined with the availability of inexpensive smartphone-enabled rapid tests the FDA is now beginning to authorize for home use, will enable application developers to create privacy-preserving health status verification solutions that can be seamlessly integrated into existing ticketing workflows."

Safe Health is currently 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, Mayer said.