British Columbia becomes first Provincial Health Authority in Canada to support COVID-19 Immunization Records in Apple Health

British Columbia becomes first Provincial Health Authority in Canada to support COVID-19 Immunization Records in Apple Health
Photo by Marco Tjokro / Unsplash

This week, British Columbia went live with its attempt at a “Vaccine Passport” or rather just a QR code to show as proof for your COVID vaccines. Apple did a great job when partnering with Google for Exposure Notifications, so it should come as no surprise that they also have a solution for showing proof of Vaccination whether it’s needed for travel or just getting into the gym. The process assumes you’re on iOS 15 and you have access to the vaccine portal for British Columbia or Ontario. (Ontario will provide enhanced QR codes in the near future.

How To

  1. Login to the BC/ON vaccine portal and provide the requested information to display your QR code
  2. On iOS 15, in addition to the usual “save as image” you’ll find “Open in Health” which will then launch a splash screen confirming the import as seen below.
  3. You can now find you vaccine proofs and immunization dates organized into the health app, as well as being able to recall the QR code you were just issued.

Since the recent launch, there’s been a host of applications and websites that aim at getting your QR code to Apple Wallet, where it can be easily accessed instead of carrying around paper proof, or going through your camera roll to see where you saved the QR Code. But trusting third party providers with your information, especially immunization records certainly comes with many privacy and security implications that it seems able is trying to negate with their native support of COVID vaccine records.

Full disclosure, I’m not by any means completely knowledgeable in terms of the security framework that is present in the Apple health integration, but it does seem that there is one big distinction between when you just copy a QR code and when you instead import it into Apple Health. Both are easily accessible, but Health’s integration seems to verify these records with the Health Authority, and then confirms they have not been altered since they were created. Again I’m not ab expert on any of these functions, but it seems this would greatly reduce the chances of individuals falsifying vaccine credentials, or altering them. I’m curious to see the framework behind the integration as Canada’s support of health records is quite limited (Two online providers as of today) that allow for things like lab reports to be directly displayed in Apple Health, features and security that Americans have already been enjoying. It seems like with health integrations and immunization records that Canadians will soon be able to take advantage of more aspects of Apple Health, beyond the usual synced data from Apple Watch.

It was only actually by mistake that I discovered the “Open in Health” in the side menu after looking over to several times and saving straight to camera roll after I grabbed my vaccine code from BC’s dedicated website. Once you choose “Open in Health” it’s completely fool proof from here. You’ll see some of the information contained in BC’s “issuer”, but obviously provincial authorities have already been working closely with Apple and their framework and should ensure that subsequent launches go smoothly as more iOS users will be on iOS 15 after iPhone 13 launches next week.

The only question still lingering is exactly what solutions have been worked on for Android users for working with their vaccine proofs as well. Either way; if you wait a week you retain ownership of your confidential medical records and avoid having to trust a third-party with these proofs. There are a few GitHub offerings tho that are done so in a privacy respecting manner but there are also those that do not have the best of intentions.

There’s a couple more detailed technical explanations and history of the project and work team that I’m still reading through (Obviously no Framework is thrown together overnight involving Global Health) and I’ve included those in the r ewww additional reading links below.

Further Readings:  https://spec.smarthealth.cards

https://build.fhir.org/ig/HL7/fhir-shc-vaccination-ig/

https://smarthealth.cards

Despite the integration into Apple Health, logically health cards seem to be focused not on a different goal than a wallet pass would. Guidelines for smart health cards strongly state that they are obviously not a form of ID and need to be verified in connection with a formal ID. Perhaps Apple or provincial governments will introduce a “add to Apple Wallet” solution that lets you access a code without opening your phone every time.