How PATH, the Vaccine Data Co-Lab, and the Ministry of Health internationalized the country’s vaccine certificate system to restore safe travel and accelerate economic recovery.
Decades of local experience
Image above: Vietnam’s COVID-19 vaccination digital certificate on the personal Electronic Health Book (Sổ sức khỏe điện tử) app.
Since late 2021, following Vietnam’s fourth and most devastating COVID-19 wave, the government has been working hard to adapt to and control the pandemic, with the goal of entering the “new normal” as soon as possible. The government has signaled the country’s resolution to recover by setting a GDP growth target of 6-6.5 percent for 2022. And on March 15, 2022, the Vietnamese government reopened its borders to international entrants.
International travel is a key component of economic recovery, but for it to be conducted securely, a standardized COVID-19 vaccine certificate is required, ideally in digital form. Digital documentation of vaccination is more effective and desirable due to its enhanced accessibility and availability and its timely updates—especially as far as reflecting the latest COVID-19 vaccination mandates and vaccination-related travel policies and reducing the burden on certificate holders.
Until late 2021, however, vaccination data that fed into electronic health records were inconsistent in Vietnam, largely due to the great speed and scale of the nationwide COVID-19 vaccination campaign. With the goal of reopening its borders just months away and bilateral vaccine passport agreements already in place, the government needed a standardized and interoperable COVID-19 vaccination certificate of its own.
The Vietnamese government began setting up its COVID-19 vaccine certification system in late 2021. As noted above, until that point data inconsistencies were common because of the speed and scale of the work. Ngo Si Tuan, PATH’s Health Information Systems team leader for Vietnam and the technical lead in this project says, “The key to the successful implementation of COVID-19 vaccination digital certificates in Vietnam is to ensure that [the] country’s vaccination certificate system is interoperable with WHO’s and [that of] other international standards.”
“The key to the successful implementation of COVID-19 vaccination digital certificates in Vietnam is to ensure that [the] country’s vaccination certificate system is interoperable with WHO’s and [that of] other international standards.”— Ngo Si Tuan, PATH Health Information Systems team leader
Given the challenge, PATH, as the first organization to receive a grant from the Vaccine Data Co-Lab—a component of the Frontier Technology program and an FCDO-led collaboration—supported the Vietnam MOH in aligning Vietnam’s vaccination certificate system with WHO, EU, and UK standards. Specifically, PATH worked with the MOH’s General Department of Preventive Medicine and its Electronic Health Administration, as well as the Viettel Business Solutions Corporation, to:
- Standardize data elements and data types.
- Provide technical assistance to implement and enhance system performance.
- Provide support in developing COVID-19 digital certificates on existing applications for personal electronic health records to include printable and electronic certificates, show compatibility for international travel, and verify linkages to global COVID-19 vaccine data.
- Support provincial and district hospitals, departments of health, Centers of Disease Control, and health centers across the country in obtaining USB tokens to provide digital signature capability on COVID-19 vaccine certificates.
- Develop a video package of promotional materials and self-training videos for health workers and users to help them navigate the certificate process.
Why was PATH chosen to do this work?
PATH has been in Vietnam for more than 40 years. As rapid social and economic changes transform Southeast Asia, we are leveraging our thought leadership with governments, the private sector, and civil society to advance equitable access to health care across the region.
For years PATH has worked closely with government agencies, health care providers, laboratories, and communities in Vietnam to strengthen the national health system through a coordinated, data-driven approach. Previously, PATH worked with the Vietnam MOH and Viettel Business Solutions Corporation to grow the National Immunization Information System from a small-scale pilot into a comprehensive digital system that tracks vaccination records and stocks.
From the onset of COVID-19, PATH was able to quickly leverage our work to help the Vietnamese government develop and roll out COVID-19 vaccines and enhance electronic disease surveillance and reporting systems. As such, PATH was able to efficiently navigate governmental processes and begin working rapidly on the COVID-19 vaccination certificate project because of applicable experience and a well-established relationship with relevant stakeholders.
For this project PATH needed to coordinate as quickly and effectively as possible with its Vietnamese public- and private-sector partners and with the Vaccine Data Co-Lab to ensure a timely response to the needs of the government. Toward that end, PATH immediately conducted discussions with the MOH to clearly understand the needs and gaps in the development of the certificate system to inform the project design and planning. The PATH team was able to make quick decisions and began working at pace thanks to the trusted partnerships already in place before the project’s start.
During the implementation period, which was only about six months, PATH understood that the priority was to complement and support the ongoing efforts by the government. Therefore, PATH was ready to nimbly adjust the work plan as needed to reflect evolving requirements. PATH made sure to bring all partners up to speed every step of the way and clearly map project activities to the MOH’s most imminent goals.
Above all, PATH’s principal concern throughout was to ensure that the certificate was user-friendly and intuitive so that everyone could benefit from it. One of the core project activities was to develop step-by-step tutorial videos to help health workers and users learn the ropes. PATH also supported the MOH in piloting the digital signature function of the vaccination certificate at Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi prior to the official launch to ensure that health workers could comfortably acclimatize themselves to the system.
Despite the very short timeline, PATH and the consortium were able to navigate the process efficiently and helped the MOH launch the COVID-19 vaccination digital certificate on March 22, 2022. The dissemination workshop held for the occasion was attended by Deputy Minister Tran Van Thuan of the Vietnam MOH, British Ambassador Gareth Ward, and representatives of implementing partners.
The project helped develop national standards for data element requirements of a COVID-19 vaccination digital certificate based on WHO, EU, and UK standards. Vietnam's clean COVID-19 vaccine dataset is ready to link to global COVID-19 vaccine data, aligning with WHO Digital Documentation of COVID-19 Certificates. The project contributed to the acceptance of Vietnam’s COVID-19 "vaccine passport" by 17 countries, including the United Kingdom, as of March 2022.
Vietnam’s COVID-19 vaccination digital certificate is now available on the personal Electronic Health Book (Sổ sức khỏe điện tử) app. If people cannot access the electronic certificate on the app for some reason, they can access their certificates via the MOH’s website.
Vietnam began issuing vaccine certificates starting April 15, 2022. The certificate entails information such as the user’s name, date of birth, the disease vaccinated against, number of shots, and date(s) of vaccination. The data, which do not include personal identifiable information, are encrypted and presented through a QR code that expires after 12 months.
The project was funded by the Vaccine Data Co-Lab, a component of the Frontier Technology program, an FCDO-led collaboration supporting actionable solutions that improve data-driven prioritization, allocation, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. In May 2021, the UK-funded program launched an open call for technical proposals to identify organizations working directly with local and national governments in low- and middle-income countries to ensure sustained capacity for vaccine deployment.