New Yorkers can now pull up a code on their phone or a printout proving that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 or recently tested negative for it.
The certification, the first of its kind in the United States, is called the Excelsior Pass. Currently, it is useful for large scale venues such as the Madison Square Garden and later will be accepted at dozens of events, arts and entertainment venues throughout the state.
The Excelsior app, which requires details like name, date of birth, ZIP code and security questions, is used to confirm a person's identity and health status using a QR code. The data is linked to the state's vaccine registry and is pre-approved by testing companies.
Airlines in the USA have been asking the government to create a vaccine passport for Americans. They believe that verification of vaccination records is crucial for the return of travel.
The only widely used vaccine passport is Israel's Green Pass. It is available as a smartphone app or a paper ID using a QR code for verification, and allows people in Israel to prove that they've been vaccinated. Passholders can visit the pool, gym, restaurant and participate in any other previously restricted activity due to COVID-19 using the certification. Currently, only residents of Israel are eligible for a Green Pass.
A Digital Green Certificate is being developed in the European Union which will help people to prove they've had their shots and "facilitate safe free movement" inside the European Union during the pandemic. The Green Certificate will most probably be available by June in digital or paper format.
While there's no vaccine passports in the USA yet, a promising development is the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Pass. The pass is being currently tested among 22 airlines, and the app is expected to release on iPhones by April 15 and later on Android. It has been tested successfully on a Singapore Airlines flight from London to Singapore in March. This pass will be limited only to air travel and border crossing.
The federal government in the US is not participating in the process of verifying that people have been vaccinated, but believes that whatever process is developed should be free, private and secure.
"It's not the role of the government to hold that data and to do that," says Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response.
However, lawmakers around the country are taking a stand opposing the idea. Senators in Pennsylvania are trying to come up with laws to prohibit vaccine passports from being used to bar people from routine activities.
Many Republicans are of the view vaccine passports obstruct basic rights and personal health choices. This mirrors the various debates held over the last year over masks, lockdowns and about vaccination as well.
Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, a Republican said his major concern was “using taxpayer money to generate a system that will now be, possibly, in the hands of mega-tech organizations who’ve already had problems with getting hacked and security issues.”
It still remains to be seen if other states will join New York in creating vaccine passports.
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