More Than 1 Million Excelsior Vaccine Passes Downloaded in New York

Carolyn Crist

June 03, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

About 1.1 million people have downloaded New York's Excelsior Pass, which was introduced in March and is the first and only government-sponsored "vaccine passport" in the U.S. so far, according to The New York Times .

The Excelsior Pass, which displays as a QR code on smartphones and computers, indicates someone's vaccine status. Vaccinated New Yorkers have been using the pass to enter comedy shows, live performances and bars that only admit those who have been inoculated against COVID-19.

New York officials are hopeful that the pass will encourage people to return to their social lives and reopen businesses across the state. So far, more than 9 million New Yorkers have been fully vaccinated, according to the New York COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, and officials want the pass to catch on more broadly.

"In the application space, when you reach a million people, that's a pretty good threshold to pass," Eric Piscini, the vice president of emerging business networks at IBM, which developed the Excelsior Pass for New York, told the newspaper.

Major sports venues and performance spaces have signed up to use the Excelsior Pass, and they also take paper records as proof of vaccination. Some bars, such as City Winery in Chelsea, are also using the CLEAR Health Pass to verify vaccination status. At the same time, most businesses in the state aren't requiring proof of vaccination for entrance, The New York Times reported.

Now New York is talking with others states to allow the pass to be used by out-of-state residents in New York and by New Yorkers in other states, Piscini said. However, some states — including Alabama, Arizona, Georgia and Florida — have already banned the use of so-called "vaccine passports" to show inoculation status.

Critics have cited concerns around individual privacy and vaccination choice. Several New York lawmakers are also backing new legislation to provide additional privacy protections, the newspaper reported.

Technology access and digital literacy have also become a concern, the newspaper reported. Older residents or those without internet access or smartphones could struggle to use the new app. Data entry errors in the state's immunization databases have also caused issues, with about 4% of people who tried to get a pass unable to do so.

"We need to realize that as much as we want a magic piece of software to be able to tell us whether the person next to us in vaccinated, these apps really can't," Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of nonprofit group Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, told the newspaper.

Within 11 minutes, Cahn was able to download someone else's Excelsior Pass using information they had posted on social media. Many people have posted pictures of their vaccination cards and private information online.

"At the end of the day, it's largely built on trust," he said.


The New York Times: "Will the Excelsior pass, New York's Vaccine Passport, Catch On?"

New York State: "Excelsior Pass."

New York State: "COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker."

CLEAR Health Pass: "Homepage."