In an effort to stay away from mandating nationwide vaccines, the Biden administration signals a push for COVID-19 vaccine passports.

Last week, the White House signaled a possibility of working with companies to produce a vaccine passport. In paper form, proof of the vaccination is printed on a passport booklet that you will carry around when traveling or entering into a public location. Digitally, proof of documentation will be shown through applications that the Biden administration has deemed credible. 

Seventeen companies are working with the Department of Health and Human Services to create a passport that is not easy to hack or copy and also protects an individual’s privacy. The companies wish to create a smartphone application that acts much like a boarding pass. 

White House officials said last week that the push for vaccine passports should come from the private sector. The passports are expected to be free and available through applications for smartphones. They display a scannable code similar to an airline boarding pass. Developers said Americans without smartphone access should be able to print out the passports.

U.S. officials say getting vaccinated and having proper documentation will pave the way for a positive post-pandemic life. Biden’s pledge to return the country to normalcy this summer caused momentum in the effort. With the growing number of companies reopening — from cruise lines to sports teams — many businesses have determined they will be asking for proof of vaccination upon entry. 

The passports will be effective for Americans traveling out of the country to locations requiring documentation. They will also be good for those who choose a non-digital approach to show vaccination records. As traveling and other activities return, these certificates will determine what kinds of events and venues a person can go to. 

New York recently announced plans for an app called the Excelsior Pass which launched Friday. The app will allow residents to provide a recent negative COVID-19 test or show vaccine proof. App administrators claim that it will be available to scan via a QR code at certain venues and locations that require proof of vaccination beginning Apr. 2.

The Excelsior Pass app is the first of its kind to launch in the country. New Yorkers are considered the guinea pigs for the idea. Upon downloading the app, users are prompted with personal questions to confirm their identity. The data comes from the state’s vaccine registry and will be linked to testing data from a number of pre-approved testing companies. 

Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo’s office stressed that the app is just one way to validate your vaccination or negative test status. Some businesses and other facilities are required by the Department of Public Health to accept other kinds of proof, including your Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination card or a printout of a test result.

In January, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to evaluate the effectiveness of linking coronavirus vaccinations with vaccine cards, also known as “international certificates of vaccination or prophylaxis.” Similar to other vaccination certificates, proof of the coronavirus vaccine will be displayed on a passport. The use of these passports” in America’s future will be helpful, according to the Biden administration. 

Certain areas outside of the country that require proof of vaccination against illnesses like yellow fever or tuberculosis will most likely start to look for documentation of the coronavirus vaccine as well. Americans should consider carrying these passports around in the future, says the Washington Post

Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser to the White House coronavirus team, said on Monday that it’s not the role of the government to create a passport or hold medical data on its citizens. Despite his comments, the Biden administration is involved in the process and will provide guidance to the private sector on the topic. 

Although vaccine passports are in the process of becoming bigger, there are delays. According to the International Air Transport Association, there is a global inconsistency in requirements for health passes. 

“There is no standard in place in terms of what the key elements of a certificate would look like nor even the digitalization of a certificate … from one country to another, and no one is following any level of consistency whatsoever,” IATA senior vice president Nick Careen said.

The requirement of a vaccine passport raises questions of concern. Citizens question how safe the process is and whether vaccine passports will ultimately lead to requiring that everyone get the vaccine.  

Medical information in the United States is currently protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA. This prevents healthcare providers from exposing personal information without consent. But HIPAA does not apply to private businesses like performance venues or sports stadiums, so there is currently no law prohibiting these venues from checking vaccination status. 

Some citizens are concerned about giving away their private information to an app that tracks their documentation. 

Cybersecurity experts said, “Medical record access is a major concern with any healthcare app; if it’s hacked, then suddenly criminals can access nearly everything about you, from your place of birth to your blood type.” 

Vaccine passports may become the gateway to a normal post-pandemic life. But the weight of concern they carry upon citizens could outweigh their usage. The White House said the process will be determined by the private sector to devise a safe plan of administering the passports throughout the year.