California on Friday started offering residents a digital record of their coronavirus vaccinations that they can use to access businesses or events that require proof they got the shots.
The state’s public health and technology departments said the new tool allows Californians access to their COVID-19 vaccination records from the state’s immunization registry and includes the same information as the paper cards issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To access the information, Californians will enter into a state website their name, date of birth and email or phone associated with their vaccine records and they will be asked to create a four-digit PIN. The record will include a QR code that users can save to their mobile phones.
With nearly 20 million people fully vaccinated in California and proof of vaccination already required in some circumstances such as travel, state health officials felt there would be demand for the tool, though it remains optional, said Dr. Erica Pan, the state's epidemiologist.
“The odds are someone is going to misplace their paper CDC card and a digital COVID-19 vaccine record provides a convenient backup,” she told reporters.
Following a drop in COVID-19 infections and rise in vaccinations, California lifted many pandemic-related restrictions this week, though everyone must continue to wear masks in some places such as mass transit and health facilities.
Vaccinated people are no longer required to wear masks at most indoor locations, though the unvaccinated still must do so. Businesses can choose whether to operate on an honor system for who must wear face coverings, require everyone to wear them or use a vaccine verification system.
Vaccine verification has been a thorny issue in many U.S. communities. About two dozen states have banned state-required vaccine passports and some, including Texas, also barred businesses from requiring vaccinations.
New York offers electronic vaccine verification through a digital app called Excelsior Pass.
California is giving residents quick access to their individual records in a database the state already maintains on immunizations, which residents could already get by making a request, said Amy Tong, director of the state's department of technology.
Businesses that use a QR scanner would see the same information as residents — their name, birthdates and vaccination details, she said. They would not be able to store the data for future use.
California officials said the tool is not mandatory, and refrained from using the word passport — which has become a politically-fraught term — in the announcement.
Los Angeles County has already been allowing residents to access electronic vaccine records and get a QR code on their phones.
In Orange County, public health officials previously discussed the idea but backtracked following community opposition.
Lucy Dunn, president and chief executive of the Orange County Business Council, said businesses want an option for vaccine verification so they can take measures to keep their workers and customers safe, especially since paper records can more easily be falsified.
“It helps keep us informed as to who is vaccinated and not,” she said. "It’s voluntary, personal, protected and as easy as adding it to your smart phone’s digital wallet like an airline boarding pass.”
Taxin reported from Orange County. Associated Press writer John Antczak contributed to this report from Los Angeles.