Encrypted Vaccination Cards and Digital Solutions for the Vaccine Rollout — An Overview

On January 19th, the Trusted Pandemic Technologies group from the MIT Media Lab conducted a webinar discussing strategies and solutions for distributing vaccines in an ethical and equitable manner in the United States. The proposed solutions involved augmented paper cards, digital certificates, and fully functional apps that were discussed in great detail by industry leaders, graduate students, and professors.

The event started off with MIT’s Associate Professor Dr. Ramesh Raskar proposing a solution that involved augmenting CDC’s vaccine card with encrypted stickers. According to him, this solution allowed vaccine cards to encapsulate the entire user journey — from eligibility and dosing to entry permits and secure symptom reporting. The QR stickers proposed utilize digitally certified coupon codes to identify a vaccine recipient instead of registering and storing personally identifiable information on a centralized database. At its core, this solution creates a frictionless user experience that can function without the live internet access or mobile applications involving users.

MIT’s VP of Open Learning Dr. Sanjay Sarma continued the event by discussing the lack of scalability involved in the current vaccine distribution and transportation systems. According to him, the centralisation of personally identifiable data creates more problems than solutions. “What we need to do is decouple” by which he calls for the creation of a parallel system that aggregates user data in a privacy preserving manner while allowing symptom reporting and vaccine eligibility. Dr. Ramesh Raskar’s solution attests to his demand by providing synchronous systems working in parallel : a physical card with encrypted information, an app for users to report symptoms, and an app for vaccine providers that checks for vaccine eligibility by scanning a user’s digital or physical QR codes.

Next came Professor Anna Lysyanskaya from Brown University and Mr. Abhishek Singh from MIT Media Lab to speak about the cryptographic protocols involved in creating the proposed QR stickers and symptom reporting systems. They delved deep into the process of producing ubiquitous credentials that attested to each stage of a user’s vaccination journey by employing key generation algorithms. Through an analogy betweens internet servers and encrypted digital certificates, Professor Anna Lysyanskaya explained how their proposed methodology of cryptographic QR codes is practical, efficient, and secure. Mr. Abhishek Singh went on to discuss their proposed system of symptom reporting that generated noise while uploading user data onto servers. By doing this, Mr. Abhishek Singh explained how user data can be prevented from corruption while allowing interoperability with other servers and databases. Their explanation certified that the augmentation of vaccination cards can create an unforgeable system for a secure user vaccine journey.

After this came Mr. James Smalls from the design company IDEO to present their approach at designing the new vaccination cards. His proposal involved creating different orientations for digital stickers and machine readable codes with a bilingual approach that allowed for better comprehension and user participation. What followed next was the PathCheck Foundation’s app demonstration performed by Mr.Vitor Pamplona. His presentation involved a complete rundown of the app’s feature that showed how a user can schedule a vaccine appointment, report symptoms, and showcase proof of vaccine dosage.

Finally, the event ended with Brian Anderson from MITRE proposing a digital certificate for returning back to the workspace and Brian Behlend from The Linux Foundation’s COVID-19 Credentials Initiative elaborating on the effort to create a common map for standardized adoption while practicing data minimization and creating transferable trust frameworks.

Initially, our world was unprepared for the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. But with vaccines ready for distribution, we have a chance at revitalizing our economies and reconstructing our communities. However, the logistics involved in creating a safe and efficient rollout system are still burdensome and the “Encrypted Vaccination Cards and Digital Solutions for the Vaccine Rollout” webinar hosted by The Trusted Pandemic Technologies group from the MIT Media Lab sheds light on how a cohesive fusion of augmented vaccine cards, decentralized apps, and software frameworks can solve and seal the ongoing pandemic once and for all.