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State Near Release on Electronic Vaccine Verification System

California is readying a solution for deployment that would let businesses confirm their customers have received a COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Gavin Newsom said recently.

Trying to stay away from the phrase “vaccine passport,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday that California is on the cusp of releasing an electronic system that will allow businesses to confirm that their customers have received their shots.

During a news conference after completing the second of three vaccine lottery drawings, the governor said that such a system is very much in the works when asked about verification language included in the state’s latest masking guidance released Wednesday.

When the state’s tiered reopening system sunsets on Tuesday, California will adopt federal masking guidelines, which state that those who remain unvaccinated must continue wearing face coverings indoors. Businesses are given three different options when interacting with unmasked customers and patrons: Just trust them when they say they’re vaccinated, “implement vaccine verification” or require everyone to wear a mask.

The second option is somewhat mysterious.

To date, the only way to verify a person’s vaccination status is to check the paper vaccination card that each person receives when they get stuck. But it has been clear in recent weeks that many have or intend to forge vaccination cards if and when businesses begin to require them.

On May 19, California Attorney General Rob Bonta warned the public not to print fake cards, indicating that his office is aware that counterfeiters were already advertising their shot-faking services online and that any such activity is illegal.

Given that all coronavirus doses are recorded in state or county electronic vaccine registry databases, it is technically possible for California to create some method for businesses to check who truly has received their shots and who has not.

The governor confirmed Friday that the “vaccine verification” language in the new masking guidelines for businesses does indeed refer to an effort to help private enterprises check inoculation status electronically.

“We would look to help support those efforts and modernize the opportunities, and we’ll be making some announcements very shortly in that space,” Newsom said.

The governor stressed that the choice is in the hands of each individual business. Clearly mindful of the backlash against so-called “vaccine passports,” he took pains to set the still-unannounced state effort apart.

“There is no mandate, no requirement, no passport,” Newsom said, noting that the guidance allows businesses to use such a system or ignore it altogether without penalty.

He declined to say what form such an electronic verification system might take — whether it might work through, say, a smartphone app, the existing state ID system or some other method — only reiterating Friday that an announcement with deeper details is coming “very shortly.”

With infection and hospitalization rates running at historic lows, the governor moved Friday to strike his original stay-at-home order of Mar. 19, 2020.

(c)2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.