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N.J. Hospital Fights Fake Vaccine Cards With Blockchain

The standard U.S. vaccine card is a piece of paper — and thus quite easy to forge. So Holy Name Medical Center in New Jersey has turned to blockchain for secure and valid digital vaccine cards.

digital fingerprint
(TNS) — As the number of vaccine mandates continues to increase, so does the demand for vaccine card forgeries.

Unvaccinated college students, young adults and others have bought fake vaccine cards online to register for classes, get into concerts and avoid issues at workplaces with inoculation policies.

Right now, it’s the Wild West in terms of immunization verification.

That’s why one New Jersey hospital is trying to combat fake vaccination cards by using a blockchain-secured system that provides digital proof of immunizations. And it hopes others — maybe even the state — will join its effort.

Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck has teamed up with SICPA, a Virginia-based global security firm, to provide forgery-proof vaccination records that businesses, colleges, venues and other entities can use to verify whether someone’s gotten their shots.

The CERTUS myHealth Pass issues a QR code that acts as a digital fingerprint showing whether a person has been vaccinated. It is the only health care facility in the nation using this technology, according to Holy Name, so verification remains limited to those vaccinated at one of its immunization sites. Businesses, colleges and concert venues would also have to use the same technology.

“When somebody goes to a concert, or somebody goes to a movie theater or to a restaurant or a college campus, they can go to the Holy Name site, and we are going to have a validator to find out if somebody’s really vaccinated at Holy Name,” said Sai Kandamangalam, Holy Name’s executive vice president and chief information officer.

The facility is hoping to be a leader and nudge others to move toward digital verification, including the state. But such technology has faced resistance from some concerned about data collection and the storage of sensitive personal information.

Currently, those who get inoculated receive a vaccination record — a simple piece of paper about the size of an index card bearing the logo of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It documents the date, location and vaccine type received.

And it’s proving easy to forge.

An online industry has sprung up offering fake vaccine cards as more and more colleges, businesses and entertainment venues require proof of COVID-19 inoculations.

While the Delta variant is continuing to rage and cases are again spiking nationwide, Kandamangalam says the stakes are too high to allow for forgeries.

The state of New Jersey does offer a free app to store coronavirus vaccination records. The Docket app requires participants be vaccinated in the state and have a phone number or email on file with the Department of Health’s immunization system.

Gov. Phil Murphy insisted in July when the app was unveiled that it was not a so-called vaccination passport, a document showing you are vaccinated and thus allowing you to enter certain places. Some countries have been using similar COVID-19 digital passes for entry, although the idea is controversial in the U.S. and even banned in some states.

“I do believe that people will overcome this fear, and they will use this as a proper mechanism for validation,” Kandamangalam said.

He emphasized the security of the technology, saying the system’s use of blockchain makes it essentially “impossible to cheat or hack the system.”

Here’s how it works:

  • You get vaccinated at a Holy Name location, whether at the hospital in Teaneck or its site in West New York.
  • After the person is vaccinated, they are issued a QR code specific to them. For iPhone users, the QR code can be stored in their Apple Wallet; for Android users, the code will be visible on a digital PDF that can be brought up on the phone.
  • The code will contain when a person had received their first dose, their second dose, the name of the vaccine, the lot number and other identifying information.

“Everything will be on that,” Kandamangalam said.

From there, instead of relying on a piece of paper, any business or establishment — say a college, movie theater, restaurant or music venue — can use the CERTUS myHealth Pass to verify a person’s vaccine status.

Will it catch on? Will the raging Delta variant cause establishments to move past the fear of infringing on personal freedoms and use digital verification? Only time will tell.

“We are doing it ourselves first,” Kandamangalam said.

©2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.