A major COVID-19 hotspot in the US, Los Angeles County will be the first to issue digital records to individuals to keep track of their coronavirus vaccinations. The County hopes the digital proof will not only remind people of their second vaccine shot but also enable them to gain access to flights and public venues.
Distribution of the digital records will begin this week through a partnership with start-up Healthvana. Initially, the record will act as an administrative tool to alleviate health providers from the pressure of vaccine-related paperwork and having to send follow-up notifications for second vaccine appointments.
Individuals can access their records via smartphones and after vaccinations, use it “to prove to airlines, to prove to schools, to prove to whoever needs it,” Healthvana CEO Ramion Bastani explained.
The idea of an ‘immunity passport’ to prove an individual is no longer susceptible to COVID-19 infection has raised ethical and safety concerns. Experts are reluctant to single out individuals who had once been infected by COVID-19. They are also unsure how long coronavirus antibodies will last, while questions have also been raised about the plan’s effectiveness for those without smartphones.
But as the County broke its COVID-19 deaths and hospitalization records last week, they are racing against time to distribute a vaccine in the quickest and most humane manner. “We’re really concerned. We really want people to come back for that second dose,” urged Claire Jarashow, Director of Vaccine-Preventable Disease Control at LA County’s Department of Public Health. “We just don’t have the capacity to be doing hundreds of medical record requests to find people’s first doses and when they need to get their second”.
Founded in 2014, Healthvana is a platform which delivers HIV and other sexually transmitted infections test results to patients. It started working with Los Angeles County early this year to provide COVID-19 test results to patients and its relationship with local residents made it a good fit for keeping, tracking and distributing digital vaccine records.
The Healthvana platform will replace easily-misplaced paper cards given to patients who have completed their vaccination. It will also give recipients more ownership of their inoculation history.
Tracking and authenticating immunization status is likely to be the next healthcare hurdle for the US and has already sparked a race among tech companies to develop solutions for people to gain safe access to public places.
Healthvana is not in touch with employers, larger gathering venues, and schools about applying its technology. Bastini believes it’s unlikely any one such service will become the standard. “It’s not going to be like one credit card you can use across the US,” he said. “Sometimes you can pay cash, sometimes you can use your Apple Wallet.”