New York’s “ Excelsior Pass ” is the country’s first vaccination passport
On Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a well-heeled crowd flashed him to attend a socially distanced dance performance at the Park Avenue Armory. In Chelsea, people showed him off to attend a John Mulaney stand-up at the City Winery. And in Troy, NY, patrons use it to enter an intimate speakeasy-style bar that only admits vaccinated guests.
This magic ticket is from New York State Excelsior Pass, which was introduced in March as the first and only government-issued vaccination passport in the country, accessible, for now, only to people vaccinated in the state.
Officials hope this can help New Yorkers feel confident about the safety of businesses and jumpstart a statewide economy that is still reeling from losses suffered during the pandemic. But for that to happen, they’ll need more people and businesses to start using it, and vaccine passports to become more universally accepted.
Although it’s basically just a QR code on your phone that shows your immunization status, the passport, and vaccine passports more generally, have become a political flashpoint among conservatives who say passports violate. privacy concerns.
About 1.1 million Excelsior passes have been downloaded to phones and computers since the passport was introduced, according to the state, which is only a fraction of the 8.9 million New Yorkers who have so far been fully vaccinated.
But officials hope it will spread more widely.
Eric Piscini, vice president of emerging business networks at IBM, which developed the Excelsior Pass for the state, said New York was in talks with other states so that the pass could be used by individuals. out-of-state residents in New York and through New York. Yorkers elsewhere.
“In the application area, when you reach a million people, that’s a really good threshold to cross,” said Piscini. “It’s a really good indication that people are finding value in it.”
Nationally, several states, including Georgia, Alabama, Arizona and Florida, have already banned the use of vaccine passports, framing the bans as measures to protect the privacy of individuals and the choice of vaccination.
In New York, some lawmakers argue new legislation this would provide additional privacy protections.
But while major sports venues and a growing number of small New York City businesses are adopting the app, the vast majority of businesses don’t need proof of vaccination to enter. (The state did not say how many companies had registered.)
For those taking the Excelsior Pass, paper vaccine cards must also be accepted as proof, the state said.
Some businesses, especially those that cater to an adult audience, like arts venues, are entering the world of auditing. In addition to accepting the Excelsior Pass, City Winery in Chelsea, for example, also uses the CLEAR pass as a means of checking health status and vaccination. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has encouraged a shift to fully vaccinated crowds by allowing businesses to ignore social distancing if everyone is vaccinated.
But civic tech experts warn that the passes can be played relatively easily, as can the paper vaccine card itself.
It took Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a nonprofit surveillance group, 11 minutes to download someone else’s Excelsior Pass using the information they posted on social media and Google searches, he said. Many people have posted pictures of their vaccination cards, which include name, date of birth, date of vaccination and type of vaccine.
And each pass can be downloaded to an unlimited number of devices, or printed and copied. The Excelsior Pass, the development of which cost the State $ 2.5 million, does not contain any biometric data for confidentiality reasons, so it must be compared to an identity document, an additional step which, in the practice, is sometimes not crossed.
“We have to realize that while we want magical software to be able to tell us if the person next to us is vaccinated, these apps really can’t,” said Cahn. “At the end of the day, a lot of it comes down to trust.”
Outdoor hosts at the City Winery sometimes asked for ID when people showed their Excelsior Pass or paper vaccination cards to enter on Wednesday, but sometimes they didn’t. At the Armory, Covid compliance officers wearing face shields carefully checked the credentials, but they simply looked at the pass’s QR code, instead of scanning it to verify its veracity.
There is no law requiring that such measures be taken.
“We trust our audience,” said Michael Dorf, Managing Director of City Winery, adding that his employees use their discretion to make these choices.
Accessibility is another concern. The vaccine’s rollout in New York City has been marred by heavy reliance on a complex internet dating system, which has given those familiar with the technology an edge. Many older New Yorkers and those without good internet access have struggled.
Now these same people face another technological hurdle if the pass becomes popular. Noel Hidalgo, Executive Director of BetaNYC, a nonprofit public benefit tech organization, said it didn’t think the state should invest millions in a vaccine passport at a time when more time and effort could be spent on things like helping improve vaccination rates for black and Hispanic New Yorkers and determining how people could quickly replace a lost or damaged paper card.
“Why are we focused on providing a technological tool to a small group of New Yorkers who are digital literate and understand how to access it?” He asked.
Delays in data entry and entry errors also limit who gets the pass. About 4% of people who tried to get passes were unable to do so, state spokeswoman Jennifer Givner said.
The pass gets its information from state and city immunization databases. If the information is entered incorrectly – for example, with misspellings or the wrong initial – the pass cannot be found.
IBM recently added a phone number verification in the app’s ID field to make it easier to find someone’s vaccination. Only four of the five fields – including first and last name, date of birth, and zip code – need to match for someone to get a pass.
A wire on Reddit, dedicated to helping people who couldn’t get passes, noted that sometimes inserting an old zip code seemed to work.
“Yeah, for me that was a zip code that I haven’t used in 14 years,” one user wrote on the thread.
People who can’t get passes can fill out a complaint form and call a state hotline, but for the most part, the organization that vaccinated them has to correct the data, which isn’t always easy. . The Excelsior Pass also does not have access to federal immunization data, so people who have been vaccinated at veteran hospitals, like John Taylor, a 77-year-old Vietnam War veteran who lives in Pleasant Valley, New York, are unlucky.
“I had it laminated,” Taylor said of his paper vaccine card. “I’ll just forget about the pass.”
State officials stressed that the paper card could still be used, so the Excelsior Pass was not essential. Mr. Cuomo himself recently said he always shows his paper map.
Outside of the shows at Park Avenue Armory and City Winery in recent days, it seemed like about half of the customers queuing to enter had flashed their Excelsior Passes to prove their vaccination and the rest were using their cards or photos of them. their cards. Both sites had additional alternatives for unvaccinated guests, such as rapid on-site testing or accepted evidence of recent negative coronavirus tests.
“I’m proud of it,” Scott Hernandez, 42, said of his Excelsior Pass while waiting to see if there was room for him and his friends to dine in the cellar. “There needs to be more education on this.”
But the extent of social acceptance of the Excelsior Pass may vary from state to state. In more conservative areas, the flashback can be severe.
In Auburn, New York, a tiny five-table chocolate store, Gretchen’s Confections and Cafe, was inundated with social media hatred from across the country after photos of a sign asking people to stop. getting vaccinated for sitting indoors has gone viral. The store has decided to withdraw its sign and now welcomes everyone.
“It’s very polarizing,” said Gretchen Christenson, the owner. “They called us Hitler and the Fascists, ‘Segregation Café’. I think the number of people who oppose it is minimal, but they are just very loud and threatening.
And when Matt Baumgartner announced that one of his bars, the Berlin Lounge in Troy, NY, would only allow vaccinated guests due to its small size and lack of outdoor space, he was also struck by the hate social media.
In both cases, loyal customers have rallied in support, and the salon and boutique have been doing well in recent weeks.
“I’m someone who strongly believes in the vaccine, and part of me feels that visiting more places is kind of a reward,” Baumgartner said.