What you need to know about US vaccine evidence on your phone

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MIT Technology Review

We are tracking the Covid vaccine apps launched in the US and some of the ways people can now prove they are vaccinated. But there is a lot of conflicting and confusing information out there, and many developers vie for the best solution. Here we have put together answers to some frequently asked questions.

The basics

What is a digital vaccination card? Is it the same as a vaccination certificate?

Digital vaccination cards are a way of using an app on your phone (instead of a paper file) to prove that you have been vaccinated against Covid. States have a variety of policies and plans regarding these types of IDs, sometimes called vaccine passports.

Some states have their own apps for times when proof of vaccination is required, such as the Excelsior Pass in New York, the Docket in New Jersey, and myColorado. Louisiana’s LA Wallet app, which also includes a driver’s license, can store a Covid registration badge. How states link digital IDs to vaccination cards can vary. For example, California sends a QR code to vaccinated individuals who fill out a form to verify their identity. Several states and territories have partnered with MyIRMobile, including Arizona, DC, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Dakota, Washington, and West Virginia. Governors and lawmakers in some states – Alabama, Florida, Montana, and Texas, for example – are actively opposed to requiring proof of vaccination.

To find out where each state is in providing vaccination cards and funding for digitization, read Tech Review’s Guide to Covid Vaccine Apps in the United States.

Why should I want a vaccination verification app on my phone?

Some experts have suggested that proof of vaccination on a phone is not as reliable as the CDC’s tried and tested paper card. That may be, but it is a good alternative or addition to carrying a vaccination card. Digital proof doesn’t necessarily mean installing a new app: a photo or scan of the paper map stored on the phone is enough for some venues. The latest version of Apple’s Health app for iOS 15 will be able to save health records – including evidence of Covid vaccination.

Note that while apps can be a convenient way to save information about vaccine status, experts warn of potential privacy risks as this technology is relatively new and is being adopted quickly.

Get to know the city

Do I have to show proof of vaccination every day – for example if I want to eat inside a restaurant?

Most cities and towns in the United States do not require vaccination for indoor food. New York City was the first to announce mandates and is still one of the few to do so. It requires proof of at least one vaccination dose for entry into restaurants, gyms, and other indoor entertainment spaces like theaters, museums, and more. San Francisco and New Orleans followed suit, with the former taking a tougher stance and requiring full inoculation of guests. Similar mandates are planned for Los Angeles and the Seattle area in October.

Some individual restaurants now require their guests to provide proof of vaccination. To find out if you need to bring your vaccination certificate with you to dinner, check that the restaurant is listed on OpenTable’s menu or check with the venue.

Are companies allowed to request proof of vaccination when entering the country?

Yes sir. Restaurants, gyms, theaters, and several other types of businesses in cities like New York and Los Angeles want to make sure their guests are vaccinated. Although this is not a common practice outside of some major cities, private companies may require proof of vaccination prior to providing any services.

Can companies require their employees to provide proof of vaccination? What about schools?

It is legal for companies and governments to require employees to be vaccinated as long as they allow exceptions for medical or religious reasons. Many companies already require employees to be vaccinated, others are following suit.

While teachers and staff were required to vaccinate in many school districts, the rule was not extended to students in most areas. Los Angeles is the first major school district to require Covid vaccines for students 12 years and older who attend class in person. Covid vaccines for children under the age of 16 have not yet received full FDA approval. If the approvals are in place, other states or school districts can add the Covid vaccine to their lists of required vaccinations. More and more colleges and universities require vaccinations.

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