Vaccine Passports in California? Answers to Your Questions

Now that more than 7.5 million Californians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Newsom administration has set a goal of reopening the state’s economy by June 15. So what does the state plan to do when it comes to proving that people are vaccinated?

State health officials said last week that verification of immunization or testing may be required before some large events are allowed. But so far, they haven’t issued any guidelines or advice for businesses on how to do that.

A theater, for example, could create a section of vaccinated people who may sit shoulder to shoulder for a performance, while requiring unvaccinated people to socially distance in a separate section.

A convention center could hold a conference for more than 5,000 people — but only if it establishes that everyone has been vaccinated or tested, according to a state order.

How will those venues verify who’s vaccinated and who isn’t? And what about travel? Public health experts, regulators and businesses are wrestling—in a highly politicized environment—with logistical, ethical and legal questions about how and whether to verify COVID immunization status.

For now, California has no plans to create a statewide vaccine passport or other credential. But private businesses, especially airlines, could require them in the near future.

Here are answers to six questions you may have about vaccine passports.

What is a vaccine passport, and what are their pros and cons?

A vaccine passport or credential verifies that the person carrying it has been fully immunized against COVID-19. A related “health pass” also could verify immunization, or could confirm a negative COVID-19 test or recovery from COVID-19 and some subsequent immunity.

Supporters of vaccine passports say they can help reopen the economy more quickly, portraying them as a temporary fix needed only until enough people have been immunized to reach herd immunity. The travel industry, including airlines and cruise lines, is particularly keen to get countries to ease restrictions on international travel and has said vaccine passports could help.

Critics say that credentials based on health status—especially if they’re digital-only—reinforce racial and economic inequities already seen throughout the pandemic and raise civil liberties and privacy concerns.

The U.S. debate over vaccine passports has a distinctly partisan tinge, with many conservatives decrying them as government overreach.

Does the U.S. government require any kind of vaccine passport? What about other countries?

No. White House officials have said repeatedly that the federal government will not create any kind of national vaccine passport. There is no federal mandate to be immunized against COVID-19.

However, federal officials are working with private companies to create privacy and equity standards for private passports that are now being developed, the Washington Post recently reported.

Other countries or regions are planning or already have developed national vaccine passports or health passes, including Israel, China, Japan and the European Union. Some of these countries are linking the digital passports to their national health care systems or immunization registries.

Requiring proof of vaccination for travel isn’t new: A number of countries mandate yellow fever or other vaccinations for incoming international travelers, and the United States requires numerous vaccinations for new immigrants.

Will California require any kind of vaccine passport?

California’s top health official, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said Tuesday that the state has no plans to develop its own vaccine passport.

Despite this, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, a Republican from Rocklin, tweeted Tuesday that he plans to draft legislation “to stop the madness of vaccine passports before it starts.”

However, the state also sent some mixed messages: Businesses by June 15 “may return to usual operations…with limited public health restrictions, such as….testing or vaccination verification requirements for large-scale higher-risk events,” according to the state’s announcement.

In addition, the state would specifically require conventions of more than 5,000 people to verify attendees’ vaccination or negative COVID test status. “Unless testing or vaccination status is verified for all attendees, conventions will be capped at 5,000 persons until October 1,” according to the state order.

Ghaly said state officials will monitor private sector development of passports for privacy, equity and fairness.

Denise Davis, a spokeswoman for California Chamber of Commerce, said the business group will discuss with its members about whether vaccine passports are beneficial for employers and the economy. “We’ll be talking about this in the weeks to come,” Davis said.

The San Francisco Giants will require proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for fans 12 and older attending home games, which start Friday. The condition was set by the local health department, which allows Oracle Park to reopen at 22% capacity.

San Jose’s convention center, which can accommodate more than 20,000 people but is now closed, will await more guidance from the county health department before deciding on any kind of vaccine credential, said Frances Wong, director of marketing & communications for Team San Jose, which manages the center. Logistics would be coordinated with convention sponsors, she said.

“It’s definitely a light at the end of the tunnel,” Wong said. “All convention centers are excited for this.”

What are other states doing?

Other states are considering vaccine passports, but so far only New York has actually created one: The “Excelsior Pass” verifies vaccination status or a negative COVID-19 test.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, recently signed an executive order banning any government entity from issuing a vaccine passport and any business from requiring them. Texas’ Republican governor issued a similar order.

What would a vaccine passport look like?

That depends on its purpose.

New York’s Excelsior Pass verifies vaccination or COVID test status and allows users to print a pass – like an airline boarding pass – or save it on a digital app to display to businesses before entering.

The CLEAR company, which markets an identity verification system to travelers to speed their path through airport security, is creating a digital health pass that could link to your vaccination record and laboratory to provide timely testing results. The CommonPass, developed by a Swiss nonprofit and the World Economic Forum, would employ a digital bar code that travelers could show to border officials or airline staff. Both American and international airlines are testing the pass.

I already have a vaccine card. Is it the same as a passport? What should I do with it?

Yes and no. The paper record that you receive when you’ve been vaccinated can be lost or faked, so companies are trying to develop verification systems that are harder to game as reports surface of fraudulent vaccination cards.

That said, for now, the card you receive is the only easy way to show that you’ve been vaccinated. To protect it, keep it in a safe place. Take a picture of your card and keep it on your cell phone.

You can also document your vaccination by registering with V-safe, a digital vaccination side effect reporting system run by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

If you lose your card, you may be able to get a copy by contacting the California Immunization Registry. And it may be too late for this advice, but don’t post your card on social media because it can invite identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

CalMatters COVID-19 coverage, translation and distribution is supported by generous grants from the Blue Shield of California Foundation and the California Health Care Foundation. CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

14 Comments

  1. Calmatters tells us it’s ‘nonpartisan’.

    Yet, when talking about New York State’s vaccination passport, they don’t mention political affiliation.

    When discussing Florida and Texas, they do mention political affiliation.

    Who, exactly, does this serve?

    Also, there is mention of funding for translation. WTF?

    How much does this ‘translation’ cost and who gets that check?

    Something fishy going on here.

    Perhaps our brave staff(the secret ones) here at SJI can dig into it.

    Yawn……

  2. Wouldn’t it just be simpler to compel non-compliant citizens (but, of course, not illegal aliens) to wear a yellow star on an outer garment and stop pretending that respect for individual liberty in this country is dead?

  3. Corrected comment:

    Wouldn’t it just be simpler to compel non-compliant citizens (but, of course, not illegal aliens) to wear a yellow star on an outer garment and stop pretending that respect for individual liberty in this country isn’t dead?

  4. People have said to me:

    “You can spend all day long writing unsubstantiated notes here for Gavin and Quack Cody.”

    It make take some time for this to post because of moderation, but here is the substantiation regarding post COVID syndrome and its effect on the young (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/06/health/covid-children-mis-c.html) and (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/literature-review-shines-light-on-long-covid#Cardiovascular-symptoms) and finally (https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-hidden-long-term-cognitive-effects-of-covid-2020100821133)

    The information about ICU beds is here (https://www.sccgov.org/sites/covid19/Pages/dashboard-hospitals.aspx#Occupancy) and here is the Santa Clara Blueprint status (https://www.sccgov.org/sites/covid19/Pages/blueprint-dashboard.aspx)

    I already have shown that the FDA cannot PROVE that the COVID tests are reliable regarding the variants, only 85% of the current ones are THOUGHT to not have a problem from Johns Hopkins seen here (https://www.jhsph.edu/covid-19/articles/variants-vaccines-and-what-they-mean-for-covid19-testing.html). But NOT proven. I think I am making a point here. INDEPENDENT research has proven your claim my notes are unsubstantiated is not true. You wrote:

    “Nothing you are likely being paid by them to write here can bring back our needlessly lost businesses, jobs or the future for a generation of kids.”

    I am not paid by anyone, nice try to claim I am an astroturfer, even though I have had communications with so many anonymous astroturfers on so many conversations. I have no connection with any politician, so you can forget trying to make it sound like it. The rest of your writing doesn’t involve me at all.

    The fact are we have not yet even TESTED that people are in fact immune of COVID, probably because it would be considered unethical experimentation if the subject got sick and we have no proven mitigation for the health of the subject.

    In this situation testing can have 4 results true positive (infected), true negative (not infected), false positive (not infected) and false negative (infected). When there are questions regarding the results multiple tests should be performed by unique systems to minimize the possibility of false positives (not infected, and false negatives (infected).

    WE ARE NOT DOING THIS AT ALL FROM THE DOCUMENTATION I HAVE READ

    We simply are just guessing to what the real situation is still because we do not have a persistent monitoring process. However, can’t we test the sewer systems to determine the level of infection in a region? WHY IS THIS NOT HAPPENING?

    When we see that that monitoring iss indicating the lack of evidence of regional infection, THEN we have PROOF that the COVID is either under control or better GONE.

    It makes this entire process nothing but a big gamble

  5. HIPPACHICK,

    Actually you are right on target.

    Unless there is a “legislation” to carve out an exception, which can be done.

  6. HB you wrote:

    “Your papers, please!”

    Currently, HIPPA rules, which are often ridiculous, apply.,”

    What do you know about them? Are you a “CERTIFIED” expert? Oh wait, actually I am because I demonstrated expertise in my proof of competency, and specialized traingi as an Certified Information Systems Security Professional? You wrote:

    “To: Steven G

    They are testing the sewage: (skip link)”

    So, they are testing sewage, BUT they are not using that data to determine whether it is safe to stop infection controls.

    It should be that if you have ANY detected COVID in waste water, the controls should be mandatory. IF you want to actually KILL the COVID off for good.

    If you reach ZERO COVID in wastewater, then the R(not) of the virus is 0. No new infections and the disease is self destructing. But you will say, WE CAN’T AFFORD TO DO IT?

    The country cannot AFFORD to allow COVID to live anymore, this is the CHEAPEST and has been proven to be the most EFFECTIVE predictor of increased infections. It also means you are detecting more of the virus because you are scanning the entire population.

  7. They COULD change The HIPAA law to make it less secure…but that will never happen. If anything, Passport idea is DOA. Any business that attempts to require one will get destroyed in court. Whats next? HIV Status? Herpes?

  8. You are truly amazing. I have never seen someone with a bigger chip on his shoulders. I used the plural because one shoulder wouldn’t carry the size of the load you are hauling around.

    I love it when you wander off topic and then ask questions and provide MY answer yourself. You are the master at setting up straw-man questions and then putting words in other peoples mouths by answering on their behalf. Sad, very sad. Why are you so angry?

    You act as if I was attacking you. I merely pointed out that the County IS monitoring the sewage.

    First you say they are NOT monitoring sewage, which was false. Then, when I gently point you to the County Website

    https://www.sccgov.org/sites/covid19/Pages/dashboard-wastewater.aspx

    which clearly shows that they ARE monitoring sewage, you change your argument and launch into some diatribe about your qualifications as a Certified Information blah, blah, blah, and attack me.

    FYI, I have run a number of healthcare facilities and am VERY familiar with HIPPA — many of which are ineffective and ridiculous.

    You have no idea what the county is doing with the data and how they’re integrating it into the decision making process that’s being used locally and passed along to the state.

    So let me put some words in your mouth. A better response to my post about the county website might have been, “Dear HB, thanks for posting the information. It is true that they are monitoring the sewage; however, I am concerned about whether they are using the data effectively.”

    Steven, my dear boy, being “right,” at all cost, is not a good way to go through life. First, it is impossible. And second, it is a very unattractive trait.

  9. HB you wrote:

    “First you say they are NOT monitoring sewage, which was false. Then, when I gently point you to the County Website”

    I actually agreed with you. But you DEMAND it to come from a particular phrase, sorry, OK Thanks for pointing out the testing is happening. But it still isn’t used for anything. You wrote:

    “FYI, I have run a number of healthcare facilities and am VERY familiar with HIPPA — many of which are ineffective and ridiculous.”

    Please provide us with an example? Because first we do not know who HB is, and what FACILITY you ran to establish it had a good reputation of providing good security. What would happen if it turned out WHILE you ran your facility you were caught and disciplined for VIOLATING HIPPA? Your comments here IMPLY that might have happened. That would not establish your conclusions. We are talking to a “GHOST” named HB. You write:

    “You have no idea what the county is doing with the data and how they’re integrating it into the decision making process that’s being used locally and passed along to the state.”

    The only information I understand the state is considering is the “Blueprint” data. That was the process described in the State Governor’s orders, the State legislation, and the State Health Departments.

    This is not a personality contest. We are still dealing with a Pandemic Crisis, and I am open to anything that will actually solve it. But currently we aren’t doing anything “PROACTIVE” except hoping the vaccines will work, given there is yet NO PROOF they do yet.

  10. HB,

    By the way that website only consists of 4 testing samplings.

    It does not actually cover the ENTIRE County.

    Especially with the aging sewer infrastructures.

    So your information was good, but not complete.

  11. So your response about 💩 testing and demand for a zero Covid rate is ridiculous. Even if you could check all the sewage, which you actually can when it reaches the sewer treatment plants, you can NEVER TEST ALL THE SEPTIC SYSTEMS of which there are thousands in the county (legal and illegal). There are over 21 million septic systems in the US. Demanding a zero Covid sewage rate is just as dumb an idea as demanding to reached a ” zero Covid rate in the population” before we re-open society. We will never be completely ride of Covid on the planet.

    In a bad year, the common flu kills as many as 60,000 people in the US and hospitalizes over 750,000.

    https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html

    At some point, society must just accept a manageable level of Covid, just like it does with Flu. Or, smoking, drunk driving, or just driving or flying — there is an inherent risk in all things.

    There is even risk in hiding one’s rent controlled apartment receiving government welfare (or SDI SSI or whatever program name you are on) and wearing a tinfoil hat while lashing out at how unfair society is because you have not succeeding to the level you believe you are entitled to because of your (fill in whatever the thing that makes you so entitled — high intelligence, superior education, white privilege, black privilege, LGBT privilege, yada, yada, yada or just the fact that you think you’re really good looking and society should give you everything you want.)

    Being angry at society and spewing false narratives and concepts about institution is not a solution. If people think America is such a bad place — THEY SHOULD MOVE! I hear that NK is lovely this time of the year.

    I trust people to make their own decisions, and they should have to live with the consequences of those decisions.

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