Should You Use the Covid Vaccine App?

Embattled New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced a partnership between the state and IBM for a blockchain-driven app that would provide rapid proof of Covid-19 vaccinations and also a recent negative test result. 

Excelsior Pass was tested at sports events in New York City and is expected to roll out on a wider scale with the stated goal of fast-tracking “the reopening of theaters, stadiums, and other businesses.”

The app is one of many similar programs released by governments and businesses abroad to resume travel and commerce. Leaders of the European Union have greenlit a “Digital Green Certificate” for travel across the borders of member nations. The state of Hawaii and travel industry-based companies including American Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways and Hyatt Hotels Corp. have all announced similar initiatives.

A common model for vaccine passports is to function similar to airline boarding passes, where proof of vaccination or negative test results are printed or displayed in the form of a scannable QR code. 

While the idea of a quick and efficient method of confirming a travel or customer’s vaccination status is appealing, there are privacy implications whenever personal medical information is accessible to third parties and companies. Privacy policies and concrete details about how a user’s data will be protected are crucial.

In the case of the Excelsior Pass, neither Governor Cuomo nor IBM have released an official privacy policy or any technical details other than stating that blockchain technology would be sufficient for protecting health data.

The sheer number of vaccine passport programs is also a matter for potential concern unless they all operate with the same criteria, which is currently not the case. As things stand now, the Biden administration has no plans to create a centralized database or passport system and would leave states and organizations to develop a patchwork of passports and standards.


  • Several states, countries, and businesses are in the process of creating passports for ease of confirmed vaccination programs, which rely on differing standards and technologies.
  • Privacy and security advocates are concerned about the availability of user medical data contained in passport applications.