What’s the Status on Vaccine Passports? States and Corporations are Scrambling

A picture taken on March 3, 2021 in Paris shows a vaccine vial reading “Covid-19 vaccine” and a syringe next to a European passport. JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. is leading in the world in COVID-19 vaccine rollout, prompting many businesses to seriously consider summoning their employees back to the office after a year of remote work. However, there has not yet been a nationwide, coordinated effort to track who’s been inoculated and who’s not—and there may not be one at all. Those who have not been vaccinated could still face a significant risk of contracting the coronavirus if governments and businesses rush to a full reopening.

A growing number of coronavirus-hit countries have introduced various versions of a “vaccine passport” system to ensure a secure and orderly return to normalcy. The concept, however, remains controversial in the personal liberty-obsessed United States.

On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that “there will be no centralized universal federal vaccinations database, and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”

The Biden administration will leave it to states and the private sector to figure out how to track vaccination, with the federal government setting some baseline guidance. However, the White House has no timeline for when that guidance will be issued.

Some states and large corporations have already launched their own vaccine tracking programs.

Last week, New York State released a state-backed vaccine passport, called the Excelsior Pass. Built on IBM’s blockchain technology, the system allows people who have been vaccinated or recently tested COVID-19 negative to download their health records onto a mobile app that displays a QR code, which can be scanned by event venues or airlines to verify their status.

The World Economic Forum and the Swiss nonprofit Commons Project Foundation have been testing a similar system called CommonPass, which allows international travelers to download their health information and generate a QR code for further verification.

In the corporate world, Walmart recently began offering digital vaccination records that can be used in combination with vaccine passports. Carbon Health, which partnered with the city of Los Angeles for vaccination rollout, is offering a vaccine passport, called Health Pass.

According to a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) document seen by The Washington Post, there are at least 17 vaccine passport efforts currently under development.

In the U.S., people receive a printed paper card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) after being vaccinated. The card includes the patient’s name, birthdate, the type of vaccine they received and other information. But the cards aren’t designed to be verified by a third party, leaving room for forgery and scams.