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California rolls out digital vaccine verification — but don't call it a passport

Users can verify their vaccination and then take a screen grab, but Gov. Gavin Newsom has said it does not constitute a vaccine passport.
Image: Jesus Oronoz receives a shot of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine with a chance to win a pair of tickets to see "Hamilton" at a pop-up vaccination clinic at Pantages theatre in Los Angeles
Jesus Oronoz receives a shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a pop-up clinic in Los Angeles on June 12.Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Don't call it a vaccine passport, but California now offers something that's awfully close.

The state's Departments of Public Health and Technology unveiled a website Friday that lets users who verify their identities get digital copies of their Covid-19 vaccination record.

Called the Digital Covid-19 Vaccine Record portal, the site is meant as a digital backup to the paper cards from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Americans receive when they get a Covid-19 vaccination, said Amy Tong, the state's chief information officer.

It "provides Californians a way to view and save their own vaccine record," Tong said on a press call. "Instead of having a card, if they want to have a digital version of the same CDC card, this is your opportunity to do so."

Residents can take a screen grab of their record on the site if they want to avoid carrying around a CDC card, she said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has said that the system does not constitute a "vaccine passport" that businesses could use to filter people who are not vaccinated.

But California does mandate that businesses hosting a mass indoor gathering, like a large concert or sporting event, verify that all entrants either have a recent negative Covid-19 test or are vaccinated.

There is no national vaccine passport, however, and the Biden administration has said that there are no plans for one. While CDC cards were intended only as a means for an individual to keep track of their shots rather than as a way to verify that someone's been vaccinated, they have defaulted to that purpose for much of the country.

Some states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas, have issued executive orders demanding that no businesses can demand to see if a customer has been vaccinated.

New York is the only state that has an official app, called Excelsior Pass, that's tied to its state vaccination database. Vaccinated residents can use it to verify their status to get into large venues, and is effectively a vaccine passport.

Though California's portal functions only as a website, rather than an app, it's otherwise essentially the same thing, said California's chief technology innovation officer, Rick Klau.

"This is very similar in concept to what New York launched with Excelsior Pass, which is an opportunity for a resident, in our case the state of California, to have a digital copy of their vaccination record," Klau said on the press call.