Here's what you need to know about New York's digital vaccine passport

The Excelsior Pass launches this week as an effortless, secure method of proving you're free of COVID-19.

This week, residents of New York state will be able to sign up for a digital vaccination passport, allowing for easy access to their COVID-19 vaccination records.

The Excelsior Pass, which Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced during last week’s State of the State Address, uses secure technology to confirm that a user has received the COVID-19 vaccine or a negative COVID-19 test. The back-end technology for the passport was developed in conjunction with IBM. It utilizes the blockchain — the same technology behind NFTs and cryptocurrency — to verify a user’s medical information.

The hope is that the Excelsior Pass will make it easy for New Yorkers to prove they’re ready to enter large gatherings like concerts and football games; officials at these locations can scan the app’s QR code to quickly assess whether or not the user poses a risk to other event-goers. This could be a game-changer — if New Yorkers take the plunge and download it, that is. Here’s how it’ll work.

How do I get access? — Anyone who has received the COVID-19 vaccine from the state of New York or taken a COVID-19 test in the state is now eligible for the Excelsior Pass. Signing up is super simple: head to the official Excelsior Pass landing page and hit “Get Started.”

You’ll have to authorize the disclosure of some general information, including your full name, date of birth, zip code, and vaccination and testing information. The site will then walk you through confirming your identity with official health records and setting up your login info. Then you just have to download the Excelsior Pass app — available on both iOS and Android — and you’re ready to go.

How do I use it? — Just open the app and display your personalized QR code for scanning. It’s really that easy. The business or venue will scan the QR code and either receive a green check or a red X.

You’ll be able to use the Pass at any business that’s chosen to participate in the program. Major venues like Madison Square Garden and Albany’s Times Union Center have already announced their participation; the state expects smaller businesses to get on board soon, too.

But it’s not a perfect system — There are, of course, some caveats to the Excelsior Pass system. The system is currently limited in scope and only works for those vaccinated or tested in New York state. As other states and private companies create their own passport apps, there will need to be some standardization between systems — otherwise interstate and international travel and events will be unable to utilize the technology.

The good news: help is on the way, in the form of the Vaccine Credential Initiative, which has been working since September 2020 to solve this issue while keeping everyone’s health data secure. While we wait for those standards to arrive, though, there are sure to be some technical difficulties.

Standardization aside, the Excelsior Pass is a huge step toward late-pandemic gatherings, travel, and general business. It’s also much more secure than those paper cards — which have been popping up for sale all over the dark web.