LA begins issuing digital vaccine verification receipts

Gustaf Kilander
Virus Outbreak California Vaccine (2020 Los Angeles Times)
Virus Outbreak California Vaccine (2020 Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles county has begun issuing digital proof to those who are vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to a report from Bloomberg on Monday.

Health officials hope that vaccination receipts - which can be stored on smartphones - will act as a reminder to people who have received the first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to return for their second dose. Those who have been vaccinated will be sent a notification to their iPhone, or Android equivalent.

Claire Jarasow, director of vaccine-preventable disease control at LA's Department of Public Health, told Bloomberg that giving out residents' public health information could be seen as an invasion of privacy.

“It’s as safe as we can make it. Personally, I would feel comfortable using it, so I hope that’s reassuring," she added.

The vaccination receipts have the potential to be used as so-called “immunity passports,” a pass proving that you are immune to Covid-19 in order to enter movie theaters and concerts or board planes, as businesses begin to figure out to how to open safely as the threat of the pandemic recedes.

However there are concerns that companies could benefit from the apparent data grab.

There are also fears of a two-tier society, with those who have been vaccinated living a normal life while those who are unable to be vaccinated will be faced with restrictions.

The American Civil Liberties Union wrote in May that "immunity passports are not the answer" and that they "threaten to exacerbate racial disparities and harm the civil liberties of all".

The ACLU wrote that immunity passports could create economic incentives, leading to low-income individuals to attempt to become infected with Covid. "These incentives will be especially hard to counteract if immune workers are given preferential treatment in hiring or higher wages," the non-profit wrote.

The UK-based charity Privacy International, which works to protect privacy globally, also said that a vaccine passport would create inequality.

"Until everyone has access to an effective vaccine, any system requiring a passport for entry or service will be unfair," the group said.

LA has become a Covid hotspot with over 750,000 cases and 10, 000 deaths from the virus.

The digital vaccination receipts have been created by startup Healthvana to help ensure that vaccine doses don’t go to waste and that patients get both of the required doses to achieve immunity.

Healthvana CEO, Ramin Bastani, told Bloomberg that vaccine digital passports would not become ubiquitous.

“It’s not going to be like one credit card you can use across the U.S. Sometimes you can pay cash, sometimes you can use your Apple Wallet,” he said.

Paper cards are also given to those who are vaccinated to track what vaccine they received.

Los Angeles county is the most densely populated in the US with over ten million residents.

Iceland and Hungary have already instituted policies that require visitors to show both a positive and negative Covid test within the last six months, CNN reported, a de-facto immunity passport.

Icelandair wrote that "travellers with a certificate of previous COVID-19 infection that meets the government criteria," are exempt from quarantining when arriving in Iceland.

With vaccinations already behind schedule in the US, businesses hope that immunity passports could provide a path to opening up society before everyone has been inoculated.

The Independent reported that it could take ten years to vaccinate all Americans if the pace does not improve.

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