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Dining out? How to show proof you're vaccinated on your phone

As some establishments begin to require proof of vaccination, it's important to know your options for sharing and storing your vaccine card.

As some cities enact vaccine mandates for activities like indoor dining and museum visits, many are wondering what the best way to show their vaccine status is.

Some cities and states have developed their own digital apps where people can store a virtual copy of their vaccination information. Others are reliant on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cards that were given to most people upon vaccination.

Dr. Adam Ratner, director of the division of pediatric infectious disease at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone Health, said that the vaccination mandates are temporarily necessary because of the "very dangerous" stage of the pandemic that the country is currently experiencing. There has been an uptick in cases, driven by the more contagious delta variant, though almost all of those cases are among unvaccinated people. Since children can't yet be vaccinated, he said that people have an "obligation as a society" to protect them and other vulnerable individuals while enjoying regular activities.

"There are people walking around who can't be vaccinated, and to protect them, I want everybody to be vaccinated," he said. "I think that restricting what unvaccinated folks can do is reasonable and is not new. ... We're trying to make things as safe as possible. None of us want to be totally locked down. I want places to be open, I want schools to be open to the extent that they can be. But part of that is making sure that those areas are as safe as they can be."

Ratner said that there is no obvious benefit to using a digital app over a physical vaccine card, or vice versa. Using a phone app can help keep your physical card safe, but it's also possible to just store the card in a plastic sleeve or other protective layer. (One thing to keep in mind: Don't laminate it, since it will need to be updated with any booster shots you may need to get.)

State or municipality vaccine apps

Different states and cities have developed their own technology to allow people to easily show proof of vaccination.

New York State has its own vaccination app, the Excelsior Pass, which allows people to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test. Other states like New Jersey, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois and Louisiana have similar applications.

These apps can easily be stored on your phone, but if you are going somewhere where you'll need to show proof of vaccination, make sure that your phone is charged and able to connect to the software.

Meanwhile, at least 22 states have banned similar applications, according to the MIT Technology Review.

Ratner said that he himself recently downloaded New York's Excelsior Pass.

"I signed up for the Excelsior Pass the other day, it was totally easy, it's now on my phone," said Ratner. "I think that it's easy, both for the person who's providing the data and for (the place you're visiting), where you're not asking them to look at something and be able to tell whether this person has forged their vaccine card or not."

Third-party applications

Some private companies have also developed applications designed to streamline the process of showing vaccine proof.

OpenTable, the restaurant reservation service, partnered with secure identity company CLEAR to develop a service where diners can make a reservation, then upload their vaccination details to a secure digital vaccine card on the CLEAR app. According to a press release, the digital vaccine card "securely connects a person's verified identity to their proof of vaccination from hundreds of vaccine providers and national pharmacies." The press release emphasized that OpenTable will not store the vaccination card data or any other health information.

Ratner said that apps like these that are connected to registries makes it easier for establishments to determine if a card is legitimate.

"We've seen the news stories about people buying fake vaccine cards," he noted.

Another application, MyIRMobile, allows people to easily access a digital copy of their immunization records for any vaccine, not just the coronavirus vaccine.

Are there privacy concerns?

Ratner said he didn't see any particularly significant privacy concerns surrounding the city or state-wide mandates, since there is little personal information on the vaccination card and many establishments, like bars, already ask for documents like a driver's license. Asking for proof of vaccination is not a HIPAA violation.

"You can get carded walking into a bar. ... It wouldn't be strange at a store if they asked for photo ID if you were paying with a credit card," Ratner said. "I don't think it's more information than is on your driver's license, so that doesn't seem like a big issue."