September 23, 2023


Sapiens Digital

New York Rolls Out the First Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Passports

On Sunday 28 March, New York State rolled out a voluntary digital COVID-19 vaccine passport for its residents. The Excelsior Pass is to help prove when residents have been vaccinated or received a negative test for infection. 

The plan is to help businesses, citizens, and events get back on their feet safely. As Bloomberg points out, similar to Californians who can already save their vaccine records in their Apple Wallet, all New Yorkers have to do is either print out a QR code or save it in their smartphone’s wallet, on both Android and iOS, and show it when necessary. 

Questions around data security arise, but the state says it’s got that covered. 

What the Excelcior Pass will do

The free, opt-in platform is developed with IBM and works similarly to an airline boarding pass. Upon entering venues such as concerts, attendees have to show their QR code from their vaccine or test result, which is scanned using the matching scanner on an app. 

The first places to use the platform will be large venues like Madison Square Garden in New York City, which can start as of this wee. Smaller venues will be able to use the passes starting from April 2. The hope is to ultimately increase event sizes for weddings, and such. 

Questions around data privacy pop up when such information is stored electronically, and scanned by a third party. However, state officials stressed that the IBM-powered platform keeps every user’s data secure and confidential “at all times.” 

Moreover, the platform is built on IBM’s Digital Health Pass solution, which is specifically designed to verify health credentials without sharing personal or medical information. Moreover, blockchain and encryption are used to protect the data.

The Excelsior Pass is currently voluntary, and may indeed remain as such. However, there are concerns that events may end up requiring attendees to show their vaccine and negative test results prior to entering, limiting those who can attend.

Other countries are thinking about or have already rolled out COVID-19 vaccine passports, like Israel’s Green Pass system. Residents who use the app have exclusive access to gyms, concerts, events, and more. 

Even though this exclusive attendance may be raising some questions, this type of digital vaccine passport is a clear indication of how technology can be used to benefit society and the economy to recover and operate in a new normal. Otherwise, events and businesses may have to remain closed or at limited capacity. 

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