New York and IBM Begin COVID-19 Digital Health Pass Pilot

By Steve LaFleche, General Manager, IBM Public and Federal Market
Mar 19, 2021 10:00 AM ET

For the last several months, the preeminent puzzle for humanity has been figuring out how to emerge from the pandemic and responsibly return to a new version of business-as-usual. Absent any single quick fix, people around the world have relied on ingenuity and innovation to light a path forward.

The first piece of good news broke when scientists announced they had developed several vaccines in record time to combat the spread of COVID-19. Now, as governments and health providers manage the ongoing rollout of those life-saving vaccines, the public needs new tools to begin a gradual, confident return to normalcy. One of those promising tools has been developed by IBM, and it is about to get a test run in the United States.

This week, the State of New York shared that it began a pilot program based on IBM’s Digital Health Pass powered by blockchain. The aim is to eventually provide New York residents a simple, voluntary, and secure method for showing proof of a negative COVID-19 test result or certification of vaccination.

The pass would give the state’s residents the ability to voluntarily share their health status on their own terms using a tool that has been built from the ground-up with robust privacy protections in place. Each participant will determine what information they want to share, with whom, when and for what purpose – without sharing the underlying personal data used to generate the credential.

This is in keeping with IBM's leadership in the responsible stewardship of technology and clients’ most valuable data. The IBM Digital Health Pass conforms to IBM's high ethical standards, long-established Principles for Trust and Transparency, and guidelines for deployment of technologies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because the digital health pass runs on the open standards of blockchain technology, it can interoperate easily with other solutions so that people won’t have to rely on multiple apps when going about their daily lives. Its open architecture also allows other states to join the effort, which could provide the foundation for a secure and interwoven ecosystem enabling governments, businesses, and people nationwide to power a safer, trusted transition to a post-pandemic reality.

IBM supports the equitable and inclusive application of health passes, and expansive access to the COVID-19 vaccine, and other related healthcare services. So the tool can also be easily tailored to make it more convenient and accessible as states receive user feedback which could include support for multiple languages or giving users the option to revert to a paper-based pass.

In choosing to test a flexible and accessible tool that places the security and privacy of personal data at its core, this can be a national example of how new approaches can help safely reinvigorate economies while also protecting public health. New York is focusing their program on trust, inclusivity and convenience. And at IBM, it’s work we are proud to support.