- The Biden administration's health IT agency is doing some work around so-called vaccine passports, as some companies and countries look to institute a system where people can offer proof of immunization as societies increasingly reopen, according to Micky Tripathi, head of the Office of the National Coordinator.
- Tripathi shared the news during a keynote Thursday at the Health IT Leadership Roundtable held by consultancy Sirona Strategies, scant days after numerous airline lobbies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent the Biden administration a letter asking it to develop temporary credentials travelers could show to prove their health status, in a bid for one uniform passport in lieu of the smattering of options that currently exist.
"We're working with our federal partners on understanding the landscape and best evaluating what the considerations are there," Tripathi said, noting ONC's top priority right now is helping with the pandemic response.
One bright spot from COVID-19 is how the pandemic has resulted in a novel opportunity to reevaluate how care is delivered in the U.S., and harness new technologies to make medical access more affordable and equitable, experts say.
But deploying technology in a secure and standardized way without hampering innovation is a tightrope to walk. Much of that job falls to ONC, as the agency works to streamline health data sharing after a year of the country scrambling to combat COVID-19 within a siloed health IT infrastructure.
Tripathi, who has two decades of experience in the health IT space, was tapped as ONC head late January. He said ONC is currently working alongside other HHS agencies in about seven to eight workgroups to support President Joe Biden's coronavirus-related executive orders.
One executive order signed Jan. 21 directs health regulators to enhance federal collection, sharing and analysis of coronavirus data, and includes a review of interoperability and connectivity in public health data systems. ONC is co-leading a workgroup with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to look at modernizing the country's reporting infrastructure to follow through on the order, according to Tripathi.
"That just got launched but we're digging in in earnest now," Tripathi said.
As the pandemic steamrolled the U.S., deficits in the nation's health IT systems made it extremely difficult for public health officials to respond, including in key areas like resource allocation and contact tracing. The government spent much of 2020 trying to patch the gaps, and in the past few months took some positive steps, including launching its own vaccine tracker and including county-level testing data in its COVID-19 tracking.
But systemic problems with public health infrastructure's current makeup remain, including complexity in immunization information systems maintainted federally, at the state level and in different jurisdictions making it difficult to track and allocate vaccines.
"There's no magic wand," Tripathi said. "We need to understand how we can make these work more effectively in the future."
However, the national coordinator noted the pandemic response isn't monopolizing all the agency's resources, and that it's working with federal partners around vaccine passports, an idea quickly catching on in the travel industry.
The letter sent to the Biden administration on Monday from powerful airline and business groups noted it's "crucial to establish uniform guidance" around such passports, although vaccination shouldn't be a requirement for travel. It's unlikely the Biden administration would develop its own credentialing system, as there are already a smattering of digital vaccination passports from governments around the world and private companies looking to revitalize travel and hospitality spending.
One launched last year by the Commons Project Foundation and the World Economic Forum has already been adopted by numerous major airlines. Another major initiative is backed by a coalition of providers and software giants, including Epic, Cerner, Mayo Clinic, Microsoft and Oracle, with the goal of creating a tool that allows people to keep an encrypted copy of their vaccination record in a digital wallet, or use a QR code to prove they're immunized without need for a smartphone.