California launches digital vaccine verification system but says it will not be mandatory

A man holds his vaccination reminder card after having received his first shot at a pop-up vaccination site next to Maximo Gomez Park, also known as Domino Park, Monday, May 3, 2021, in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami Wilfredo Lee/AP
  • California launched a digital vaccine verification system.

  • The state just reopened, so businesses can use the system to enforce rules to protect against COVID-19.

  • New York state has a similar program, called the Excelsior Pass.

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California just released a new digital vaccine verification system that residents can use in place of a the small CDC cards to prove they are inoculated against COVID-19.

The portal asks Californians to enter some personal information, including age and date of birth. If the information matches the official records, the user will receive a text or email with a link to their digital record, which has a QR code that can be scanned to show authenticity.

The digital vaccine cards are not "vaccine passports," the state says. They contain only the same information as the CDC paper cards, and California will not make them mandatory. The digital version is just "one of the options to show proof of vaccination" for the coronavirus, the state says in the FAQ section.

California officially reopened on June 15, dropping requirements for physical distancing, capacity limits on businesses, and a tier system that varied the requirements by county. The nearly 20 million vaccinated residents of the state can use the new system to prove their vaccination status at businesses that require it, though most are not verifying vaccination.

New York state launched a similar program in March. The Excelsior Pass was built by IBM and allows New Yorkers to go to events that exceed the state's social gathering limit. The 20,000-seat Madison Square Garden in New York City and 17,500-seat Times Union Center in Albany were both early adopters of the system.

The pass will alleviate issues for people who lost their vaccine cards, but some might have issues accessing their information. Not all records include contact information, and some of it may be outdated, according to Rick Klau, California chief tech innovation officer.

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