#TogetherAsOne Spotlight: Immunization Pass May Help Slow Spread of COVID-19 and Support the Rebound of Economic Opportunity in Travel
With the ongoing fight against COVID-19 continuing to impact citizens and businesses around the world, both the public and the private sector are faced with one looming question: are there solutions that can ensure the safety of the public when communities and economics are ready to reopen?
A team of EPAMers set out to answer that question by submitting a proof of concept for a new blockchain-based mobile app called Immunization Pass to the #EUvsVirus Hackathon, earning them a spot as one of the winning teams in the Social and Political Cohesion domain. The #EUvsVirus Hackathon, hosted by the European Commission and led by the European Innovation Council in close collaboration with EU member states, is a pan-European hackathon that connects civil society, innovators, partners and investors across Europe in order to develop innovative solutions for coronavirus-related challenges.
The idea for Immunization Pass started to form when Kristian Cooper, Director, Project Management began discussing with a colleague the implications COVID-19 would have on airline travel in the months to come as countries eventually begin to open back up. He wondered how international travel could be restored once it was safe to do so, and how people might feel more comfortable resuming travel activities if they had a solution for health tracing to reassure them of their fellow travelers’ health status. Kristian’s colleague suggested he connect with Himanshu Mishra, Senior Account Manager.
Himanshu, who had worked closely with Kristian in the past and had been organizing submissions to the #EUvsVirus Hackathon, began brainstorming solutions with Kristian.
“We saw the challenge that countries are facing when dealing with COVID-19,” said Kristian. “The virus is having a massive impact, both from an economical and humanitarian perspective. Countries really have to do everything they can to flatten the curve. Unfortunately, that creates a difficult situation for many companies—particularly airlines—because they have to restore travel to help rebuild the economy.”
But the team also realized that if airlines wanted to resume business as usual again, they needed to do so safely, and, just as importantly, they needed to convince travelers and domestic citizens that it is safe.
“People are going to be very nervous about traveling as countries begin to open back up,” said Kristian. “So, we thought, ‘How can we approach this?’ And that’s how we came up with the idea of the Immunization Pass app.”
The Immunization Pass app enables reliable, safe, anonymized and trusted sharing of critical health, vaccination and immunity information. The app’s two main features include:
- Using blockchain to anonymously prove vaccination and immunity status
If someone has tested positive for an antibody test confirming that they did indeed have COVID-19 at one point or had tested positive during the time that they were exhibiting symptoms, that information would change the user’s status. Further, once a vaccine is created and administered widely, a user’s status will be updated to reflect that they have received the vaccine.
- Anonymously share contract tracing – without compromising user privacy and security
Since the app can be used to see if someone has tested positive for COVID-19, its contact tracing functionality can notify users should they have come into contact with someone who might have had the virus and advise them to take appropriate actions based on their risk level; for instance, it might recommend a high-risk user self-quarantine after coming in contact with someone whom has a confirmed case of COVID-19. Using facial recognition to verify users and secure blockchain to share anonymized data, the app protects a user’s identify. The app also does not store any user personal information.
The blockchain aspect of the Immunization Pass is particularly important to the app’s functionality and safety for users. “What the app does is scan the user’s face, and it then uses an algorithm to turn that scan into a heat map,” said Kristian. “The app then locks that map away in the blockchain. That means that when the user subsequently uses the app again, it rescans the user’s face to ensure it is the same person. The data can never be retrieved, giving the user complete assurance that the person in front of you who's using the app is the verified owner and complete assurance of anonymity.”
The blockchain functionality is also valuable for connecting the data of other contact tracing apps – helping to fight the spread of COVID-19. This interoperability allows Immunization Pass to aggregate relevant health information for users and share it in safe, anonymous and reliable exchanges with other apps and their users. “The way that we have designed this app is so that it can work with other apps, in terms of sharing the tokens,” said Himanshu. “It's not that the app can only talk to another Immunization Pass profile on someone else's phone, it can also talk to the underlying tokens from other applications as well, as long as users allow this exchange to happen.”
These aspects can be valuable even beyond COVID-19, Kristian and Himanshu are quick to add. It could track whether people have had all appropriate vaccinations necessary for international travel.
With their concept set, on the first night of the Hackathon on April 24, Kristian and Himanshu got to work with 10 other EPAM team members. The team was able to leverage insights from personal contacts at the United Kingdom’s National Health Service to learn what functions of the app would be most helpful for health officials.
With Himanshu working with Andy O’Farell, Director, Experience Design, to create the conceptual design and value proposition and Kristian leading the technical side, the team was able to work through the weekend to develop and submit their proof of concept, just before the midnight deadline on Sunday, April 26.
While the team is proud of their recognition from #EUvsVirus Hackathon, they’re even more excited for the next steps. As a second-place solution, they will have the opportunity to participate in the European Commissioner’s European Innovation Council Matchathon from May 22-25, alongside other select #EUvsVirus participants. Throughout the Matchathon, a consortium of interested partners, investors, public and private organizations will attend the event to see how they can help the hackathon’s participants through financial, networking, development or partner support. This could give the Immunization Pass team the opportunity they need to fast track the development and adoption of their app by major companies and health officials, in order to make the solution a reality and offer real impact in the fight against COVID-19.
As the team prepares for the Matchathon, they are guided in their work by one thing: their passion about saving lives.
“I think it's worth remembering that this app could potentially save lives. So, getting it out there as soon as possible is a massive motivator for us,” said Kristian.
If your travel organization or government is interested in developing the idea, please contact us.