COVID-19 - tests and vaccines

On the topic of immutable credentials for public health

Along with the news about the vaccines being tested there is another interesting announcement which is yet to catch on. The US FDA authorized the first home test kit for COVID-19.

“The FDA continues to demonstrate its unprecedented speed in response to the pandemic. While COVID-19 diagnostic tests have been authorized for at-home collection, this is the first that can be fully self-administered and provide results at home. This new testing option is an important diagnostic advancement to address the pandemic and reduce the public burden of disease transmission,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “Today’s action underscores the FDA’s ongoing commitment to expand access to COVID-19 testing.”

This should create a better reference frame for discussions around the topic of using Verifiable Credentials (VCs) related to specific aspects of COVID-19 - especially around the requirements from a public health perspective. Immunization Information Systems already exist and there are available standards (even if they are complex) around immunization. Creation of digital complement to the vaccination card is a topic that has come up during conversations on the Governance Framework around COVID-19 - a work being undertaken within the Trust over IP Foundation.

There is an opportunity to explore the opportunity to create tooling and standardize existing elements towards good implementation details. For instance, expanding the scope of a governance framework from COVID-19 to the wider aspects of delivery of public health services. And undertaking a practical, pragramtic assessment of feasibility of introducing verifiable digital credentials. A test of application of verifiable credentials could adopt the 3V framework - Viable, Valuable and Vital and determine the use case fit for this technology.

The various proof-of-concepts and pilot implementations around VCs work on well defined scope of the projects eg. educational/learner credentials; supply chain processes and/or banking and finance. The introduction into public health infrastructure brings up the need to determine not just whether it is ‘necessary’ but whether it provides enough game changing impact to existing immunological information systems. Specifically, whether stakeholders can gain more from this change than status quo. Existing workflows and processes have evolved through years of on-field work. Gradual transformation enables maintaining the existing principles while creating new opportunities for social change.

A significant component of any design around VCs for public health has to deal with data rights, data governance and data privacy. India is yet to promulgate a definitive set of legal requirements around these topics and the existing laws are not robust enough. That said, there exist a body of best practices which align reasonably well with the draft regulation and can be considered for inclusion into privacy-by-design principles. Fair, explainable and accountable processes which demonstrate the value of VCs stand a better chance of review by experts and introduction into production systems.