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Commentary: California Helps Crack the Code on Digital Vaccine Records

“In just over six months, more than 20 percent of the vaccinated population in California have downloaded a digital vaccine record,” writes Rick Klau, the state’s chief technology innovation officer.

The following commentary was published Tuesday on the California Department of Technology’s Tech Blog.

In June 2021, CDT’s Office of Enterprise Technology partnered with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to launch the California Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record (DCVR) portal at Offered as a digital copy of an individual’s paper Centers for Disease Control (CDC) card, it became an increasingly popular service for California residents who wanted a more secure, portable record of their COVID-19 vaccination doses: In just over six months, more than 20 percent of the vaccinated population in California have downloaded a digital vaccine record.

That translates to more than 6.5 million California residents who’ve downloaded over 11 million digital vaccine records, making California the largest issuer of SMART Health Cards in the United States. An open source framework, SMART Health Cards were developed as a secure, interoperable framework to make it easier to store and share health data. Now that smartphone manufacturers like Apple, Google and Samsung all support SMART Health Cards*, California’s digital vaccine records are much more useful – they can be stored securely in Apple Health and Apple Wallet, Google Pay and Samsung Pay, all of which make it easier to find and present vaccination records when requested.

In September 2021, we released all of the code we wrote for our DCVR portal to the public domain. Our hope at the time was that other states might take our code and implement their own system for their residents. Less than two months later, Washington state did just that, releasing WAVerify to enable Washington residents to retrieve their own digital vaccine record. Washington went a step further, making a number of improvements to our code, including adding dozens of additional translations to make the service more accessible for additional communities.

As we look ahead to 2022, we’re in touch with another six states that plan on following Washington’s lead, bringing code originally developed in California to even more Americans in the next few months. We put together a playbook that documented some of what we learned this year as we built and shipped the DCVR portal, and expect other states may find it instructive as they explore doing something similar to what we did in California.

It was a privilege to work on this project with our colleagues at CDPH, and we look forward to working on similarly impactful projects in 2022 that will benefit all Californians.

*All iPhone users can add their digital vaccine record to Apple Health and Apple Wallet by following instructions here. Android users who use Google Pay can add their digital vaccine record to Google Pay by following instructions here. Samsung Pay users can add their digital vaccine record to Samsung Pay by following instructions here.
State Chief Technology Innovation Officer Rick Klau joined the California Department of Technology in February after serving as senior operating partner for Google Ventures from 2011 to 2020. Before that, he held executive positions with a number of firms in the private sector. Klau received his juris doctorate from the University of Richmond School of Law.