The Excelsior Pass in New York is becoming increasingly popular. The digital vaccine platform has issued millions of passes since its launch in March, allowing people to show proof of vaccination or negative test results via a state-developed app. However, few businesses use the Excelsior Pass’s signature feature, which is a scannable QR code that can quickly verify customers’ vaccination status by checking state records.
While New York state has issued 6 million Excelsior Passes in the 29 weeks since their launch, the governor’s office told Recode on Thursday that those passes have been scanned just over 314,000 times. This equates to approximately 10,800 scans per week. The app used by businesses to scan Excelsior Pass QR codes has been downloaded approximately 156,000 times.
New York, the first state to implement an app-based vaccine passport system, paid IBM millions of dollars to assist with the development of the Excelsior Pass platform. The system was created to make re-openings safer by giving businesses a more secure way to confirm vaccination status than checking paper CDC cards, which are easily forged. However, neither New York State nor New York City require businesses to scan the Excelsior Pass, and the low number of total scans suggests that the Excelsior Pass is overly complicated.
After obtaining a report from the New York Office of Information Technology Services via a public records request, Recode discovered that statewide scanning activity was low between March and June. The governor’s office then shared the most recent data, which revealed a similar pattern. The scanning figures corroborate anecdotal evidence from more than a dozen New Yorkers who spoke with Recode, all of whom have used the Excelsior Pass but said their QR codes are rarely or never scanned.
While New Yorkers thought the app was a convenient way to store vaccination proof, they were perplexed as to why the Excelsior Pass included a QR code. Some people claimed they had no idea there was a separate scanning app.
Individual Excelsior Passes for New Yorkers can be downloaded from the state government website by providing personal information such as their name and birthday. The site also asks for the person’s vaccine type and the date of their most recent doses, after which the system compares the information to a state-run immunization database. If everything checks out, the state issues the individual an Excelsior Vaccination Pass that includes their QR code, name, and birthday. There’s also a newer option for retrieving an Excelsior Pass Plus, which displays the type of vaccine a person received as well as the date of their doses. Other states’ test results and verification systems are also compatible with the Excelsior Pass system.
Restaurants, movie theaters, and other establishments are required to download the NYS Excelsior Pass Scanner app in order to scan their customers’ passes. When a QR code is scanned by this app, the technology checks to see if the user’s vaccination information matches the state’s records and is still valid.
New York has promoted the Excelsior Pass system as a cutting-edge tool that could assist the state in reopening safely and quickly. New York’s Office of Business Information Services agreed to pay IBM $2.5 million to develop a state-specific version of the company’s existing blockchain-based Digital Health Pass technology. However, depending on how many Excelsior Passes are downloaded over the next three years, IBM could earn an additional $12.3 million in licensing fees.
Meanwhile, service workers are tasked with enforcing New York City’s indoor vaccine mandate. While they can look at a CDC card and a driver’s license, a new app and scanning QR codes may make the already time-consuming process of checking vaccine statuses even more difficult. After all, when attempting to enforce public health measures during the pandemic, these workers were subjected to abuse, violence, and sexual harassment.