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Covid-19 vaccine passports apps: which ones can be used in the US?

Two states in the US have authorized a covid-19 passport for use while several states have banned the concept. The White House will not make it mandatory.

Two states in the US have authorized a covid-19 passport for use while several states have banned the concept. The White House will not make it mandatory.
James D. MorganGetty Images

Despite the lightning speed development of the covid-19 vaccines, the US got off to a slow start rolling out its vaccination program. Now 100 days into the Biden administration the US has administered over 200 million doses of covid-19 vaccine.

Even though nearly 30 percent of the US population is fully vaccinated the nation still has a long way to go to reach herd immunity. Those that are unvaccinated can still potentially be the source of a new outbreak as restrictions are eased. To counter this, ensure the safety of the population and to return to normal covid-19 vaccination passports have been put forth as a way people can gather and travel. But not everyone is convinced and there has even been backlash to the idea.

What are covid-19 vaccination passports?

Many countries have begun to implement or are considering using covid-19 vaccination passports to allow people to enjoy a more normal life and freedom of movement in very abnormal times. A covid-19 passport can be a paper or digital certification that someone has received the covid-19 vaccine or that they have tested negative for the virus recently.

Some countries are already using them for domestic travel and may require them for international travelers. In addition, people carrying the vaccine passport could gain access to certain venues to attend sporting events, concerts or just to dine out. The LA Dodgers have designated two sections of its stadium for fully vaccinated attendees who won't have to maintain social distancing starting Saturday.

What covid-19 passports are used in the US?

So far, just one state has implemented the use of a covid-19 passport. New York unveiled its Excelsior Pass last month that allows businesses to check if people attending events are vaccinated or have a negative covid-19 test within a certain time frame. Using the pass is voluntary but businesses may require customers to present some proof of vaccination to gain access to an event.

Hawaii announced that it will be using a digital covid-19 pass to “skip pre-travel testing and quarantine requirements for flights between islands,¨ starting 11 May. However, the lifting of travel restrictions for fully vaccinated people will not apply to trans-Pacific travelers at this time, but officials are working on expanding the scheme.

One other state is looking into the possibility of using some form of covid-19 vaccination passport. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker thinks the vaccine app would be useful but thinks that it should be voluntary.

At least 17 private businesses and nonprofits are developing technology that may be used by businesses and venues to ensure the safety of staff and customers through vaccination passports according to the New York Times. One of those is The Commons Project which is working with airlines to test their “CommonPass”. Speaking to the paper Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet said “On the face of things, requiring proof of vaccination seems a lot like, ‘No shoes, no shirt, no service.’”

Will covid-19 passports be mandatory?

Those that support the use of vaccine passports want the White House to be part of the process, to set privacy standards and verify accuracy of the records. However, the press secretary Jen Psaki stated earlier this month “The government is not now nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential. There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”

Like so many other issues the topic has become another hot-button topic in these politically divisive times and caused backlash in some quarters. Eleven states have already banned or their governors have expressed opposition to the use of digital verification of vaccination.

The governors in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Texas have all signed executive orders prohibiting the use of covid-19 passports. While in Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska, Tennessee their state governors have expressed opposition to the use of any verification system. Utah passed a law blocking the state government from requiring people to get the covid-19 vaccine and use vaccine passports.