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Orange County Prepares COVID-19 Vaccine Passport Pilot Program

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The Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) announced plans to launch a pilot program for digital COVID-19 vaccination records as early as this month. This passport pilot program will allow individuals that have been vaccinated to participate in activities that involve larger crowds, including travel, concerts, conferences, sports, school and more.

“We are working on issuing a digital vaccination administration record to folks,” OCHCA Director Dr. Clayton Chau said at an OC Board of Supervisors meeting on April 13.

The passport would not be mandatory for all county residents. Rather, it would function as “an administrative tool to show proof of immunization,” according to OC First District Supervisor Andrew Do at the meeting.

While specifics of the program have not yet been released, an inactive prototype of the system utilizing a QR code scanning mechanism debuted on the county’s COVID-19 vaccine and testing management app, Othena.

“I understand that people … saw the prototype of the QR code on our website, on our app Othena, but it’s not active, it doesn’t work,” Chau said at the meeting. “We were planning on piloting it for a business that wishes to have that [system] … but we have not initiated the pilot at this point.”

Chau clarified that the passport program would be implemented in addition to physical vaccination record cards, citing warnings from the Centers of Disease Control and FBI against an increase in illegal redistribution and reselling of the cards. 

“I want to stress that the only purpose of that [system] is to give people records that they’ve been vaccinated through us and through Othena,” Chau said.

Over 213 public commenters attended the meeting to discuss matters related to public health and safety guidelines, COVID-19 vaccines and the passport program.

At the state level, plans have not yet been announced to launch or require COVID-19 vaccination passports. However, private businesses may be authorized to mandate vaccination proof for entry.

According to a memo from the California Department of Public Health, “testing or vaccination verification requirements will remain in relevant settings” once California’s economy reopens. However, no specifics about potential methods of verification have been shared.  

Other states within the U.S. have initiated similar programs, including the state of New York which has launched Excelsior Pass. According to NY health officials, the pass is a voluntary vaccine passport program that aims to “support a safe reopening of New York by providing a free, fast and secure way to present digital proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results.”

Ariana Keshishian is a City News Apprentice for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at ankeshis@uci.edu.