Starting Friday, New Yorkers will be able to pull up a code on their cell phone or a printout to prove they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 or recently tested negative for the virus that causes it.
The first-in-the-nation certification, called the Excelsior Pass, will be useful first at large-scale venues like Madison Square Garden, but next week will be accepted at dozens of event, arts and entertainment venues statewide. It already enables people to increase the size of a wedding party, or other catered event.
The app, championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to support the recovery of industries most affected by the pandemic, is funded by the state and available for free to businesses and anyone with vaccination records or test results in New York.
Like an airline boarding pass, people will be able to prove their health status with a digital QR code – or “quick response” machine-readable label. They’ll need to download the Excelsior Pass app, enter their name, date of birth, zip code and answer a series of personal questions to confirm their identity. The data will come from the state’s vaccine registry and also will be linked to testing data from a number of pre-approved testing companies.
The New York system, built on IBM’s digital health pass platform, is provided via blockchain technology, so neither IBM nor any business will have access to private medical information. An entertainment venue will simply scan the QR codeand get a green check or a red X.
The new pass is part of a growing but disjointed effort to provide vaccine “passports” or certifications, so people won’t have to hang onto a dog-eared piece of paper, worry about privacy issues or forgeries, or fork over extra cash to prove they’re not contagious.
In addition to IBM, open-source computer experts, who provide code anyone can use for free, have been developing such systems, as have retailers like Walmart, which is also offering digital proof of vaccination to anyone who gets a shot in one of its pharmacies.
The biggest challenge will be linking these systems together, so people won’t need different apps for every venue or use.
Open-source computer advocates already have been collaborating to “figure out how to piece together the different pieces of the puzzle,” said Brian Behlendorf, executive director of Linux Foundation of Public Health, an industry-driven consortium that builds open-source software.
“It’s really the nerds getting together in kind of a nerd U.N. to piece this all together,” he said.
New York hasn’t worked out those connectivity issues yet, but hopes to eventually, as well as linking tickets to the Excelsior Pass, so people going to an event at Madison Square Garden, for example, will be able to link their admission and health passes, rather than fumbling with multiple apps.
Another hurdle will be finding a consistent set of standards, so what counts as an acceptable test or vaccine in one state or country will count in another.
There are at least two competing sets of standards being developed globally to allow secure access to information about vaccination status, particularly for international travel.