Blockchain helps monitor COVID-19 vaccinations

Blockchain technology could help reduce the risk of fraud tests and ensure an optimised vaccination process.

Story by Drishtee Lokee.

The increased demand on healthcare and the poor regulation of data has escalated the risks of fraudulent COVID-19 tests. In 2021, a number of hospitals in Bangladesh were reported to have been issuing fake COVID-19 certificates, while others were using the opportunity to charge patients exorbitant prices.

Dr Jabed Chowdhury, a Lecturer in Cyber Security Program at La Trobe University, says COVID-19 vaccination certificates are a big source of document forgery and corruption, especially in developing countries.

“It is challenging for policymakers to efficiently manage the testing and vaccination process as these systems are designed and maintained independently,” he says.

Working alongside fellow researchers from the Daffodil International University and BRAC University in Bangladesh, Dr Chowdhury developed a blockchain-based system that allows access to the testing and vaccination system, increasing its transparency.

“Blockchain is a universal platform which can monitor the data progress and verification,” says Dr Chowdhury. “The medical sector can adopt blockchain technology to improve access to information, reduce healthcare costs, and streamline processes.”

The study expands on the preservation of patient records initially developed by a primary physician or GP. This is information is secured in a silo that can’t be accessed by other practitioners.

Blockchain could connect medical records systems from different providers to a single network and allow patients to access their data with consent from a medical professional or insurance company.

The proposed system has been implemented in research is the Ethereum public (test) network. Ethereum is a blockchain-based software platform that allows the safe use of internet without trusting applications like Facebook and Google to store personal information.

Dr Chowdhury explains that blockchain can be an effective tool for different applications in the health sector as it consists of a data sharing mechanism among different entities with many security features.

“The first line of defense is the authorised government agencies who can upload the evidence to the system. That eliminates the chance of corruption as whoever has access to this system should be someone appointed by the government,” he says.

“Secondly, even if this system is compromised by hackers or experiencing technical difficulties, the data cannot be changed because blockchain is a distributed system. So you can only restore what is another version of the data.”

Another application that Dr Chowdhury highlights is the creation of a universal certificate verification system to avoid fraud.

“Through servers, we can identify which areas are highly infectious and see which hospitals are dealing with more COVID-19 patients,” says Dr Chowdhury. “This system will simplify the vaccination process and automatically prioritise data to identify who is more vulnerable to COVID-19.”

Dr Chowdhury says that when developing the algorithm for the blockchain-based system, his research team performed multiple security checks, including coding.

“We have published our source code as open source so it can be viewed by anyone,” says Dr Chowdhury. “Our hope is that by providing these tools medical records can be more accessible and more accountable.”