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Official: App May Lead To Discrimination

New York’s new “Excelsior Pass” app is a digital pass that people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

At least one high-ranking Pennsylvania House member doesn’t want to follow New York state’s lead with a COVID vaccine pass application for smart phones.

The app allows New York residents to offer proof of a coronavirus vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test. As part of the program’s initial launch, participating New Yorkers can use Excelsior Pass to verify their COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results as needed to gain entry to major stadiums and arenas, wedding receptions, or catered and other events above the social gathering limit.

Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre/Mifflin and House majority leader, said those who haven’t been able to get a vaccine yet should not be discriminated against by not being allowed into events.

“Every Pennsylvanian who wants a COVID-19 vaccine should have the opportunity to get one, and we are working hard to make sure that happens sooner rather than later. However, those who cannot receive the vaccine due to medical reasons, arbitrary vaccine deployment phases, or personal choice should not be discriminated against, especially as we work toward herd immunity,” Benninghoff said. “The idea of so-called vaccine passports is an opening to unfathomable government intrusion into people’s personal lives, particularly their private medical information. I hope the Wolf administration and my fellow lawmakers join me in opposing this ill-conceived idea.”

New York residents can download the app to their Android or iPhone device. When they go to a participating business, residents will open the app and a QR code will appear. The business will then scan the code to verify the pass and allow the resident to come inside. Residents also have the option of printing the code as well.

Excelsior Pass is built on IBM’s Digital Health Pass solution and is designed to enable the secure verification of health credentials such as test results and vaccination records without the need to share underlying medical and personal information.

The technology is flexible and built to scale, allowing other states to join and help foster a safer, trusted transition to a post-pandemic reality. The pass can also be printed and is complementary to other types of proof that patrons can use, reducing any barriers to usage.

“IBM is proud to support the State of New York with its efforts to apply innovative technologies to help residents and communities respond to COVID-19,” said Steve LaFleche, IBM Public and Federal Markets general manager. “In choosing a flexible and accessible tool that places security and privacy at its core, the state is modeling for the rest of the country how new, technology-enabled approaches can help safely reinvigorate economies while also striving to protect public health.”

New York is the first state to make such an app available, and a proof-of-concept demonstration in early March allowed thousands to use the app to enter Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center. In addition, there has been talk of developing a federal system that would enable those vaccinated or tested to gain entry to businesses and work sites. Benninghoff said his concern is rooted in Pennsylvania’s past pattern of following New York in responding to COVID-19.

“The swift deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine is necessary for a return to normal, but that normal cannot include government-sanctioned monitoring of an individual’s health and the unfair selection of those who can return to normal and those who cannot,” Benninghoff added. “We have constitutional rights and health privacy laws for a reason. They should not cease to exist in a time of crisis. These passports may start with COVID-19, but where will they end?”

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