White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients said that the administration is working to coordinate with other government agencies for this purpose. "Our role is to help ensure that any [vaccine passport] solutions … should be simple, free, open-source [and] accessible to people both digitally and on paper," he commented. Zients continued that any vaccine passport should be "designed from the start to protect people's privacy."
The vaccine passports will be available for free on smartphones. Vaccinated Americans only need to show a QR code that can be scanned for verification. Those without smartphones can print out the same QR code on a piece of paper.
At least one state has pushed through the move, with New York launching its digital Excelsior Pass. Similar to a mobile airline boarding pass, it uses a secure QR code to confirm a person's COVID-19 health status.
The pass will be accepted at major entertainment venues such as Madison Square Garden and Times Union Center. A statement released on March 2 by the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo said initial testing of the vaccine passport during a Feb. 27 Brooklyn Nets game at the Barclays Center was successful. The pass was then tested at a New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden on the same day.
However, some have condemned vaccine passports as "un-American" – including the de Beaumont Foundation. Established in 1998, the Maryland-based organization is a public health group looking into the reason why Americans are skeptical of the jabs. The organization's president and CEO, Brian Castrucci warned that the vaccine passport "would go down a dark road very quickly."
Castrucci continued: "[The vaccine passport] becomes a credential. It becomes a 'needing your papers' if you will. That could be dangerous – and it could turn off people."
Other nations are also working on their versions of vaccine passports. Denmark and Israel are two such countries who have developed vaccine passes amid ongoing COVID-19 immunization programs in their territories.
In February, Denmark announced that it will launch a vaccine passport by that month's end. Its move followed neighboring Sweden's requirement for a negative COVID-19 test result for anyone entering the country. The nations are connected by land through the Öresund Bridge.
Danish Minister of Taxation Morten Bødskov said on Feb. 3 that a simple form of this vaccine passport would be rolled out by Feb. 28. According to the minister, the document will serve as proof that somebody has been immunized against the Wuhan coronavirus. A full digital passport is set to follow after a development period of two to three months.
The Danish government hopes the passport will facilitate a return to normal following its second lockdown back in January. The vaccine passport will allow people to travel abroad for business and other purposes. It will also make resuming sports events, concerts and indoor performances easier. "It is absolutely crucial for us to restart Danish society so that companies can get back on track," Bødskov remarked. (Related: Denmark set to launch digital coronavirus passport.)
Israel is another country that successfully implemented a vaccine passport. Its "green pass" program commenced on Feb. 21 to help it emerge from a month-long lockdown. Israelis who get the Wuhan coronavirus jab can simply download an app that displays their green pass. They can show this digital proof of vaccination at business establishments when asked to do so. (Related: In Israel, refusing coronavirus vaccination means your life is over.)
According to Israeli authorities, alternative options aside from vaccination will be implemented on the app soon. These include proof of COVID-19 recovery and a negative coronavirus test, the latter especially helpful for children too young to get vaccinated.
Not everyone in Israel has welcomed the vaccine passport. University of Haifa computer science professor Orr Dunkelman called the green pass "a potential privacy nightmare."
Dunkelman gave two reasons why the green pass is a bad idea. First, the app for the green pass uses an outdated encryption library – which is more susceptible to third-party attacks. Second, the pass reveals other information outside the scope of what authorities need to know such as when someone recovered from COVID-19 or got vaccinated against the disease.