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Written by Myles Shin

With the start of widespread COVID-19 vaccinations throughout the entire country, this presents a problem of how to verify whether people have been vaccinated. As of April 3, 2021, over 93 million citizens have received the first dose, and 51 million citizens are fully vaccinated (including the Johnson and Johnson one dose); this is equivalent to roughly 29% of US citizens receiving the first vaccine and 16% being fully vaccinated. The only form of verification that proves if someone got their vaccinations is the CDC’s “COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card” given to recipients after receiving their first shot (it is stamped/signed by the vaccine provider for each dose). However, many people do not carry their vaccination cards around with them since it is recommended by health officials to keep them stored away safely at home.

While many people do have pictures of their COVID-19 vaccination cards on their phones just in case, there has been an alarming rise of the production of illegal, fake vaccination cards for people who do not believe in getting a vaccine, or even COVID-19 itself. This presents a national danger since these people increase the risk of the spread of COVID-19. As the nation continues to loosen restrictions, this presents an even larger problem. President Biden and his administration are working on creating some sort of virtual “vaccination passport.” It would be much harder to fake a virtual passport since it would require some sort of government-verified QR code that would show the user’s full information and vaccination history. Having a uniform, scannable app or code to check vaccination records is a much more efficient process rather than having someone spend time checking every single piece of information on a physical CDC vaccination card. The United States, after having the most COVID-19 cases in the entire world, is also behind in finding a way to prove people’s vaccination records. Countries, like Israel, have already launched digital vaccine cards, while the United States is still barely in the developmental phase.  There are many countries that already require travelers to present a valid vaccination history for certain diseases; for example, vaccination for meningococcal disease to visit countries such as the Philippines or Indonesia. This may mean that there really isn’t a large barrier that would stop countries from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations to visit their countries to try to mitigate the transmission of the virus. 

However, many Republicans do not like this idea of requiring vaccine passports. The Republican governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, quickly voiced his opinion and banned government-mandated vaccine passports; he stated that the vaccine passports violate the right to privacy and freedom. With many other Republican states most likely going to follow a similar path, it is important for President Biden to find an efficient and effective way to create some sort of vaccine passport that will not violate any freedom or privacy rights that has bipartisan support. 

Photograph: Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office

While Florida has completely got rid of the thought of having a vaccine passport, New York decided to take another approach and launched the “Excelsior Pass,” the first vaccine passport in the United States. It is still very much in its developmental stage, but it is starting to be rolled out. The app’s QR code shows a New Yorker’s COVID-19 vaccinations as well as any negative test results when scanned; any entertainment venue can choose to use it, but it is not required by the state of New York. Secured by IBM, this app is meant to keep the user’s information private and away from third-party sources. 

With the rapid rollout of vaccines to all ages and the launch of the Excelsior Pass, this is a good sign for the United States that the pandemic is one step closer to coming to an end. There is no way to guarantee that everyone will comply with the rules, but the government is doing what it can to encourage safety protocols.