The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend masks when eating or gathering indoors for those who are not fully vaccinated. But few states require it, and most companies rely on voluntary compliance – even in places with low vaccination rates where COVID-19 cases are on the rise.
Digital verification programs for vaccines could make it easier to enforce protective measures and contain new outbreaks.
“But that only works when there is mass adoption, and mass adoption requires trust and actual consent to what the state health department does, which is not necessarily all states,” said Alan Butler, executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit organization.
Hawaii is the only state that enforces a version of a vaccination record. Travelers must upload a photo or PDF of their Hawaii vaccination record or pass a COVID-19 test prior to arrival to avoid a 10-day quarantine.
Earlier this month, California became only the third state, after New York and Louisiana, to offer residents the option to voluntarily view digital evidence of their COVID-19 recordings. None of these states require the use of their digital verification systems to gain access to public or private locations.
In contrast, at least 18 states run by Republican governors or legislators prohibit vaccination records or public institutions from requiring proof of vaccination. Some of them – including Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, and Texas – prevent most companies from refusing to serve those who are not vaccinated.
“Texas is 100% open and we want to make sure you have the freedom to go where you want without borders,” said Governor Greg Abbott as he signed a bill against vaccination certificates.
The ban does not apply to the demands that employers place on their employees. Earlier this month, a Texas federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by 117 Houston hospital workers who challenged a job requirement to get them vaccinated. More than 150 were later released or resigned because they did not receive their shots.
In Louisiana, under a law passed by Republicans against a potential veto by Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, public agencies are not allowed to exclude unvaccinated individuals until COVID-19 vaccines are fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The vaccines will initially be dispensed under FDA emergency clearance.
In May, Louisiana launched a program to allow residents using the LA state digital driver’s license wallet to add a record of their COVID-19 vaccination.
But its range is still limited. About 105,000 people have activated the COVID-19 verification feature. That’s about 14% of those with a digital driver’s license and less than 4% of Louisiana’s 3.1 million residents with a valid driver’s license.
Democratic State MP Ted James, who drafted the bill to create the digital driver’s license, said he used the feature only once – to show an Uber driver in Nevada they don’t need to wear a mask. But James said he was never asked to show it in Louisiana and doubts he will ever do it.
“Earlier this year, I felt like at some point there would be limited travel and places unless we had the vaccine,” said James. “I cannot imagine that we will ever have any kind of requirement.”
As a step towards reopening, New York launched its Excelsior Pass in March, the first state system to provide digital evidence of COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative test. By the beginning of June, more than 2 million people had received the digital passport – around a fifth of those vaccinated.
At City Winery, most customers bypass the Excelsior pass and instead show their paper CDC vaccination cards to gain entry, said Dorf, who said the 1,000-person venue’s guests “appreciate being in one Safety bubble to go as they know everyone is nearby they are vaccinated. “
Although proof of vaccination is required for larger ticketed events, such as concerts at Madison Square Garden, most companies don’t ask for it.
“Think of a bar,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. “You have four friends going in – maybe two of them have, the other two don’t.
While most states have shied away from developing digital vaccination verification systems, the technology could soon be widespread.
Vaccine providers like Walmart and major healthcare systems have already agreed to provide digital COVID-19 vaccination logs to customers. Apple also plans to include the vaccination verification feature in a software update coming this fall.
Within months, hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. will have access to digital copies of their COVID-19 vaccination logs, said Brian Anderson, chief digital health doctor at the nonprofit MITER Corp., which is part of a coalition of health and technology organizations have developed such technology.
People are given QR codes that can be saved on smartphones or printed on paper for anyone who seeks vaccine verification to scan. Those who scan the codes do not retain any of the information – a protection designed to address privacy concerns.
The California Chamber of Commerce hailed the state’s new vaccine verification system as a way for employers to screen their employees. California regulations require most employees who are not fully vaccinated to wear masks when interacting with others indoors.
Digital vaccine verification “allows an employer who really wants to make sure the workplace is vaccinated to request it without the impossible problem of ‘John says he’s vaccinated but lost his vaccination card. What do we do?” This solves that problem, “said Rob Moutrie, a political advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce.