What’s happening with covid vaccine apps in the US

One year ago, vaccines against the covid pandemic seemed far-fetched. Today, however, vaccines have been administered to nearly 40% of the world's population. Some are now being asked to prove their eligibility, leading to so-called vaccine passports. These credentials may vary in details depending on where they are located, but the core of them are the same: digital records that are stored on your smartphone and used to prove you are low-risk to others.
Digital vaccination credentials supporters claim that they have clear benefits. They make it less risky to gather and incentivize vaccination. Critics see both drawbacks as well as disadvantages. Critics argue that restrictions violate civil liberties, discriminates against people who are unable to get vaccinated, unleashes surveillance and increases inequalities, rather than eliminating them.

Governments are now taking different approaches to this divergence. Seven European countries, for instance, launched a digital green certification at the start of June. 21 more nations are expected to follow suit. Some countries, however, are taking a different stance and restricting or banning the creation of these documents.

These debates are not the only ones. There is also some confusion over how systems will be used. Some systems, such as the EUs app for mobile travel between countries, can be used to do this. Some, such as the New York States app, allow for entry to everyday places, such as restaurants and events. The concept of passport is becoming more complicated and politically loaded. When Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, announced the launch his digital certificate for his state, he stated that it was not a passport, but a requirement.

We examined the state of digital vaccine systems across all 50 states.

Joe Biden, President of the United States, has stated that there will not be a national app and that it is up to each state to decide. As an example of government overreach, some states have outright banned these apps. The debate over technology often seems to be a proxy for a bigger question: Should governments or businesses be allowed covid vaccinations?

Here are some key points to remember:

The technology has been addressed in some form by most states, whether it is in legislation, comments from legislators, or statements from the governor.

From 4 states, 7 now have active vaccine certification applications.

22 states have implemented executive orders to ban the systems in some way. These states are overwhelmingly Republican-led, although not all.

The map shows each state according to its current legal status at the time of publication. "Active" means that a state has released a digital system to show that you have been vaccinated for covid. This does not necessarily mean that you must present your vaccination credentials at all levels of the state, though there may be local requirements.

Next steps

If you have information on how in your city, state, or country is using vaccine certification, or if you know of unusual uses of covid status apps, please help us keep our list up to date by emailing ctt@technologyreview.com. As new information becomes available, we will keep you informed.

This story was previously published July 1, 2021. This story is part the Pandemic Technology Project, which is supported by Rockefeller Foundation.