Don't call it a vaccine passport! But California now has made vaccination records available digitally through an online portal, which creates a scannable QR code that you can show to get into stadiums, concert venues, and the like.
Earlier in the week, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that a digital vaccine record of some kind was coming, and now we have it. To access your digital vaccine record, simply go to this state website, enter your name, date of birth, and the cell number or email you provided when you got your vaccine. You'll also be asked to create a digital PIN. Within seconds, the system will ping you by text or email, and you'll have a link to your vaccine record and personal QR code.
The link is only valid for 24 hours, but you can take a screenshot of the QR code and vaccination record and keep it in your camera roll for future use — when asked for proof of vaccination to get into a bar, nightclub, or other venue, for instance. If you lose your paper vaccination card, the state now says that this digital record can suffice and you do not need a replacement card.
The notion of a vaccine passport, like everything else with this damned pandemic, had to be politicized by Republican governors and lawmakers, leading to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signing legislation in early May that made vaccine verification or passports illegal in the state. Republicans and Newsom-haters in California have been similarly incensed by Fox News and other outlets about the privacy concerns of a vaccine passport app. Such apps have also been banned in Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia.
There are other legal and equity concerns as well, and thus, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is being careful to call this a Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record, and there is no associated app. You want to keep carrying around a paper card? That's fine too.
"While CDPH recommends that vaccinated Californians keep their paper CDC card in a safe and secure place, we recognize that some people might prefer an electronic version," says state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan in a statement. "And if one of the state’s nearly 20 million vaccinated Californians misplaces their paper card, the digital COVID-19 vaccine record provides a convenient backup."
New York State went ahead with a passport app, called Excelsior Pass, and it's reportedly been downloaded around 2 million times as of June 7, as the New York Times reported. It's being used for entrance into places like Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium, and the Bruce Springsteen Broadway show is requiring proof of vaccination for entry as well.
But the cost of New York's app will likely skyrocket past the $2.5 million that the state initially contracted with IBM for its creation, to somewhere around $17 million, with the contract ongoing until 2024 or later, and IBM charging monthly licensing fees to the state. There is also talk of expanding it into a digital wallet that also stores driver's license information or other health records, all of which rings alarm bells among privacy advocates and the ACLU.
The app has also prompted calls by the ACLU and others about the inequities of creating an app that can only be enjoyed by those who own cellphones, and those whose health conditions don't prevent them from receiving a vaccine. And that doesn't even get into the can of worms about law enforcement and immigration and the possibility of the app data being abused.
The CDPH says that all of one's vaccination data (including your date of birth) is visible when your QR code is scanned, however it will not be stored on anyone's devices.
"The QR readers should comply with the SMART Health Card Framework," the department says in answer to an FAQ. "The guidelines and code of conduct only allow reading of the QR code and prevent storing of the data in the QR code. Only you can decide when to share your vaccine record or QR code." (This still sounds like it can be abused, but OK.)
If the system can't find your vaccine record, or if the information there is incorrect or incomplete, you can call the state's COVID-19 Hot Line for help at 833-422-4255.
Photo: Rodion Kutsaev