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California launches digital COVID-19 vaccine pass but won't require it

OAKLAND, Calif., June 18 (Reuters) - California officials on Friday unveiled a website to access a digital copy of COVID-19 immunization records, though they stressed the U.S. state would not make it mandatory to carry the vaccine credentials.

Businesses will be able to verify digital “vaccine cards” by scanning a QR code on them using an app expected to launch this month. The nearly 20 million immunized Californians can access their data at myvaccinerecord.cdph.ca.gov.

“This is no different from someone’s vaccine records,” said California State Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan. “It’s an optional tool to use.”

California opened up from COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday, with masks, social distancing and capacity limits no longer required at most venues for those who are vaccinated. But businesses are largely operating on the honor system and not “carding” people.

Other states have barred proof of vaccination as an entry requirement at shops and offices, calling such restrictions an intrusion on civil liberties including privacy.

California’s technology department developed the new website using technology known as Smart Health Cards, which originated at Boston Children’s Hospital. Walmart Inc this week also adopted Smart to enable people who got vaccinated at its stores to have an e-pass.

The approach contrasts with New York state, which paid IBM to develop a vaccine records app called Excelsior Pass as well as companion app for verifying passes. Over a million people had downloaded their records onto New York’s app, but few businesses have required it for entry.

California’s Los Angeles County has offered digital COVID-19 vaccine records for months through startup Healthvana. Millions of users have taken advantage, said Healthvana Chief Executive Ramin Bastani.

Users may experience glitches with California’s new systems, because names, birthdates or contact information could have been entered incorrectly at time of immunization. (Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by David Gregorio)

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