July 26, 2021

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Newsom says vaccine verification is coming in California, but ‘it’s not a passport’ – San Francisco Chronicle

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As California reopened this week, freeing people fully vaccinated for COVID-19 from most pandemic restrictions, Gov. Gavin Newsom signaled again that the state would soon introduce an electronic vaccination verification program.

Such digital health certificates, also referred to as “vaccine passports,” have become a hotly debated issue. Opponents raise privacy and equity concerns, while supporters say the digital certificates will enhance public safety and speed economic recovery.

The Biden administration has said it will not develop a federal vaccine passport system, but allow the private sector or local jurisdictions to develop verification systems or require proof of vaccination at their own discretion.

Some states, including Florida and Texas, have placed bans or limits on vaccination certificates, such as prohibiting their issuance or use, forbidding businesses or government from requiring them, or barring mandatory use by individuals. Most neither forbid nor require them.

Newsom worded his announcement carefully Monday.

“It’s not a passport, it’s not a requirement, it’s just the ability now to have an electronic version of that paper version, so you’ll hear more about that in the next couple of days,” he said.

Here’s what we know about the plans for a vaccination verification system in California:

What will California’s vaccine verification system look like?

The details won’t be available until at least later this week, but Newsom said Monday that the system would essentially provide people with an electronic version of their vaccine cards.

Programs currently in use or in development usually have users download an app on their phones, create an account with biometric data, upload vaccination information or coronavirus test results, and show a QR code upon entry into an event or at checkpoints.

This system would replace the need to carry around vaccine cards, which are 3-by-4-inch pieces of cardstock that can easily be lost or damaged, and do not fit in traditional wallets.

Would I be required to use the vaccine verification system?

California officials say signing up for the program would be voluntary, and the state is not requiring individuals to show proof of vaccination to engage in activities. But some employers and businesses may require verification for workers and patrons.

As the country reopens, more sporting arenas and concert venues are requiring proof of vaccination. In California, indoor “mega events” defined as more than 5,000 people require either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for entry, and the requirement is strongly recommended for outdoor events with more than 10,000 people.

Some cruise lines require passengers to be fully vaccinated before boarding, and a number of companies are testing health passport apps for international travel including VeriFLY, the IATA Travel Pass and CLEAR Health Pass.

Where are vaccine passports required if I want to travel?

Among U.S. states, only New York and Hawaii have implemented verification programs. New York’s voluntary program allows businesses to scan a QR code on smartphones that verify full vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test. It is not yet known what California’s verification system will look like on smartphones.

In Hawaii, the state has an inter-island passport program that allows residents to skip testing and quarantine requirements if they are traveling to another island. Domestic travelers can skip quarantine if they get tested at a “trusted partner” site. When the state reaches 60% immunization, it will lift pre-testing and quarantine requirements for domestic travelers who are vaccinated and upload their status to the Safe Travels website.

A number of countries have introduced or are developing passport systems that would allow citizens to enter businesses, travel, attend sporting events and do other activities. Israel introduced an internal program called the Green Pass in February, allowing fully vaccinated citizens into certain places and events.

The European Union recently endorsed a new electronic vaccination travel certificate allowing people to travel between European countries without quarantine or extra testing. It will be recognized by all 27 member nations starting July 1, and several countries have already started using it. Travelers will receive their passes from their own country, not from a centralized European system.

Kellie Hwang is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: kellie.hwang@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @KellieHwang

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