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National digital vaccine card aims to ease proof of vaccination requirements

About 200 million Americans now likely have access to a COVID-19 digital vaccine card.

Six out of 10 of all vaccinations have been administered in the world's three most populous countries -- China, the United States and India - © AFP ISHARA S. KODIKARA
Six out of 10 of all vaccinations have been administered in the world's three most populous countries -- China, the United States and India - © AFP ISHARA S. KODIKARA

You may not realize this, but about 200 million Americans now likely have access to a COVID-19 digital vaccine card. And after a relatively quiet start, it has built momentum in recent months as more states and companies have signed on, making it something of a de facto national digital vaccine card.

The digital pass known as the SMART Health Card is voluntary and minimal by design to protect personal information. It has a person’s name, date of birth, and the dates and brands of vaccination doses, all contained within a type of scannable bar code known as a QR code.

You might receive a paper or digital SMART Health Card from any organization that has your clinical information, such as a pharmacy, doctor’s office, or state immunization registry. If you haven’t received one, you may be able to request it through that organization’s website or a compatible app.

A SMART Health Card has a 2D barcode (QR code) and may look something like this. Source – SMART Health Cards

“The beautiful thing about this is that this multistate coalition is a coalition of the willing,” said Dr. Brian Anderson, chief digital health physician at MITRE, a research nonprofit, and an architect of the health cards, per NBC News.

The idea of any kind of digital card to show one’s vaccination status was only a remote possibility a year ago. And the Biden administration said in March that it would not take the lead on any national health pass and instead defer to the private sector.

And, of course, there are some members of the public that are totally against any kind of vaccine card, and the SMART card has actually faced opposition and even bans, especially in Republican-led states such as Alabama and Texas.

And what is really nice is that the digital card is not relegated to a single app. The SMART Health Card is an open-source computer code that anyone can use to ping a verified source of health data and produce the unique QR code. 

Why get a SMART Health Card?

The digital card offers a few benefits beyond a paper card. QR codes can’t be forged in the way a paper card could be forged. People can also download the QR code again if they lose it, adding a convenience factor.

People can get the QR code from their state health authority if they’ve been vaccinated in one of the 13 states now participating, or from a hospital or from a national pharmacy chain, such as Albertsons, CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, or stores like Walmart if they’ve been vaccinated at any of their locations.

A critical feature is that the QR codes are standardized and interoperable, so they work across state lines. And they also work at the international level, in many cases. Countries including the United Kingdom, Israel, and Singapore have said they’ll recognize the QR codes if Americans present them abroad.

Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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