How VeChain’s blockchain technology is tackling COVID-19 shortages.

Photo by Nick Bolton: Covid-19 business closure Seattle, Washington.

Flipside & Real Items discuss the utility of blockchain technology for fighting the pandemic. 


  • Real Items Company uses VeChain’s blockchain technology to securely track and authenticate KN95 masks being shipped from China to around the world.
  • The demand for KN95 masks (instead of the FDA approved N95 masks) comes after states started bidding against each other and the federal government for important medical supplies, thereby driving up prices.  
  • The FDA is accepting KN95 masks as an exception to meet the current high demand, but only if they are made right, authenticated, and properly tested. 
  • Real Items works directly with suppliers in China to add 2fa-QR-codes to their packages, which can then be scanned at the receiving end to track where the masks came from. 
  • The team has surgical masks, full body suits, gloves and face shields in the pipeline.

Rochelle: How did the idea for Real Items come about?

David: About 10 years ago I wrote a patent for illuminated eyewear. I manufactured it locally in San Francisco and within 3 years my photos were being used on Alibaba to sell counterfeit knockoffs. Within 1 year Alibaba vendors flooded the market with low quality fakes and shortly after I shut the business down.  

When I decided to learn how to program, I discovered blockchain technology and smart contracts. I knew then that I could build something Alibaba vendors could not counterfeit. And I’m proud to say we accomplished this goal.

Rochelle: Currently, you are applying these 2fa-QR-codes to KN95 masks shipped from China. Where did the demand come from?

David: The recent need for respirators has caused counterfeiters to become desperate, willing to do anything to make money off of fraudulent items. Regulating organizations have realized they need a trustless system in order to tackle the issue.  

At the same time, what we’re seeing is states bidding against the federal government to buy personal protective equipment for medical staff. Low supply and the existence of multiple bidders has made it difficult for states to get enough protective equipment for medical staff. I receive emails everyday from hospitals and organizations with essential workers, requesting KN95 masks because that’s the only affordable alternative at the moment. 

Rochelle: Have you had to work with governments to implement the process? 

The simplicity of our system is that we don’t need permission from governments, customs or any third party to successfully transfer digital assets throughout the supply-chain. We work directly with the manufacturers and brands to apply our verification to their packaging. Manufacturers pay a monthly Saas fee based on their usage and features used.  

Rochelle: What are the current systems in place for authenticating KN95 masks? 

David:  There were no systems in place until recently. As a new protocol the chinese government has stepped up enforcement which requires the factories to register and submit a document that proves they have permission to export to the US. This is all new and proactive to the situation.

On the U.S. side, the federal Food and Drug Administration on April 3 issued an exception to its strict regulation of respirator masks, releasing a statement saying it “would not object” to their use “for the duration of the pandemic.” The Centers for Disease Control has also deemed the KN95 mask a suitable alternative when N95 supplies are low.” 

Though the FDA said it won’t object to the use of any KN95 masks under the relaxed rules, its emergency order gives an actual stamp of approval only to those produced by certain authorized manufacturers in China. And that’s where we come in: we don’t provide quality assurance like an ISO certification but we do due diligence. Our tech is used to verify that the product was produced by the brand. If the brand cuts a corner that’s on them, but at least we can trace each batch in case of issues.

Rochelle: Your DApp is a great example of how blockchain technology can be used to tackle global problems. Do you think the current pandemic will boost the adoption of decentralized systems over traditional centralized ones? 

David: Yes, definitely. Since the birth of bitcoin it’s been the battle of centralized vs decentralized, trust vs trustless, and tokenomics. A lot of projects in 2017 were hype but mainly due to existing legacy systems having such dominance and market share. It would have been hard to tell the government we needed a digital dollar. 

Now in 2020, with every vertical of the global economy affected by the pandemic, we are likely to see blockchain solutions that can scale, with transparency and speed, start to replace the legacy systems that are proving inadequate. 

With the increased demand for respirators there has been an influx of new manufacturers with inferior production and subpar cleaning methods. Combined with the influx of new buyers, you have a flooded market filled with distrust and bad actors. Buyers are not confident in their new relationships so when they hear of a trustless system that provides traceability and transparency across borders, it rebuilds confidence. 

Since people need these products ASAP, we need a payment system that can keep up. Not only are traditional payment systems slow, but banks also tend to close accounts and lock balances when they see too much activity coming from abroad. For us, that means losing 120 days so they can review transactions, so as of this morning, we accept Coinbase payments. We also have paypal and accept wire transfers. We can’t wait for payments, so as much as it was them dropping us, it led us to a faster, crypto enabled solution.

To me, this is where the opportunity is. The entire global economy is on hold to restart. Since blockchains are permissionless, this seems like the best time to introduce a solution (not a token). If it resonates, it should take hold and crush the previous infrastructure.

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