Some states are reluctant to embrace digital verification of COVID vaccines

Customers who wish to drink wine, dine, and relax listening to live music at the City Winery’s flagship restaurant in New York City must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter. But this is not required at most of the city’s other dining establishments. And this is not necessary at other City Winery sites in the United States.

If City Winery were to try to do such a thing at their premises in Atlanta and Nashville, “we wouldn’t have to do anything because so many people are fundamentally against it,” CEO Michael Dorf said.

In the United States, many hard-hit businesses eager to get back to normal have been reluctant to require proof of vaccination from their customers. And the public and politicians in many places have made it clear that they don’t care about the idea.

In fact, many more states have banned proof of vaccination policies than have smartphone programs that allow people to display their vaccination status digitally.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends masks at meals or indoor gatherings for those who are not fully immunized. 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 vaccine verification programs could facilitate safeguards enforcement and curb new epidemics.

“But it only works when you have mass adoption, and mass adoption requires real trust and ownership of what the state health department is doing, which is not necessarily present in all states, ”said Alan Butler, executive director of Electronic Privacy. Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit.

Hawaii is the only state to require a version of a vaccination passport. It requires travelers to upload a photo or PDF of their Hawaii vaccination document or take a COVID-19 test before arrival to avoid having to self-quarantine for 10 days.

Earlier this month, California only became the third state – behind New York and Louisiana – to offer residents a way to voluntarily display digital evidence of their COVID-19 snapshots. None of these states require the use of their digital verification systems to access public or private places.

In contrast, at least 18 states led by Republican governors or legislatures ban the creation of so-called vaccine passports or prohibit public entities from requiring proof of vaccination. Several of them – including Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota and Texas – also prevent most companies from denying service to those who are not vaccinated.

“Texas is 100% open, and we want to make sure you have the freedom to go wherever you want with no limits,” Gov. Greg Abbott said as he signed a vaccine passport law.

The ban does not apply to employers’ demands on their employees. Earlier this month, a Texas federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against 117 Houston hospital workers who challenged a requirement for their workplace to be vaccinated. More than 150 were later dismissed or resigned for not having been shot.

In Louisiana, under a bill passed by Republicans in the face of a potential veto from Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, public establishments would not be allowed to ban unvaccinated people until COVID-19 vaccines have been released. not received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. For now, the vaccines are being distributed under emergency FDA clearance.

In May, Louisiana launched a program allowing residents using the state’s digital driver’s license, LA Wallet, to add a record of their COVID-19 vaccination.

But its scope is still limited. About 105,000 people have activated the COVID-19 verification feature. That’s about 14% of those with a digital license and less than 4% of Louisiana’s 3.1 million people with a valid driver’s license.

Democratic state representative Ted James, who drafted the bill creating the digital driver’s license, said he only used the feature once – to show an Uber driver in Nevada what ‘he didn’t need to wear a mask. But James said he was never asked to show it in Louisiana and he doubted he would ever do so.

“Earlier in the year I felt that at one point we would be limited in traveling, going to certain places, unless we had the vaccine,” James said. Now, “I don’t foresee that we will ever have some type of requirement.”

As a reopening stage, New York in March launched its Excelsior Pass, the first state system to provide digital proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative test. By the beginning of June, more than 2 million people had obtained the digital pass, or about a fifth of those who have been vaccinated.

At the City Winery, most patrons bypass the Excelsior pass and instead show their paper CDC vaccination cards to enter, according to Dorf, who said patrons at the 1,000-capacity venue “appreciate it. ” enter a bubble of safety, knowing that everyone around them is vaccinated.

While large paid events, like concerts at Madison Square Garden, require proof of vaccination, most businesses do not require it.

“Think of a bar,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. “You have four friends coming in – maybe two of them have it, the other two don’t. Are you going to turn down the other two when small businesses are in such trouble? “

While most states have been reluctant to create digital immunization verification systems, the technology may soon become mainstream.

Vaccine vendors such as Walmart and major healthcare systems have already agreed to make digital COVID-19 immunization records available to customers. Apple also plans to integrate the vaccination check feature in a software update coming this fall.

In a matter of months, hundreds of millions of people across the United States will be able to access digital copies of their COVID-19 vaccination records, said Brian Anderson, chief medical officer of digital health at the non-profit organization. lucrative MITER Corp., which is part of a coalition of health and tech organizations. who developed such technology.

People will be given QR codes that can be stored on smartphones or printed out on paper to be scanned by anyone looking to verify vaccines. Those who scan the codes will not keep any of the information – a protection meant to address privacy concerns.

The California Chamber of Commerce said it welcomes the state’s new vaccine verification system as a way for employers to verify their employees. California regulations require that most employees who are not fully vaccinated wear masks when dealing with others indoors.

Digital Vaccine Verification “allows an employer who really wants to make sure the workplace is vaccinated to demand this without having the impossible problem of ‘John says he’s vaccinated but lost his vaccination card . What do we do ?’ This fixes that problem, ”said Rob Moutrie, a policy advocate at the California Chamber of Commerce.

About Geraldine Higgins

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