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Digital COVID-19 vaccine verification in California county could violate rights, advocacy groups warn

Stacy Vasquez, CEO of the Birmingham VA receives the COVID-19 vaccine. (Joe Songer | al.com/TNS)
December 31, 2020

Los Angeles County will offer a digital receipt to recipients of the COVID-19 vaccination in an effort to ensure patients receive a second vaccine, but some believe it could ultimately become a requirement for gaining access to flights and concert venues.

Created through a partnership with the LA-based Healthvana, the digital receipt can be put into an Apple Wallet or similar Google platform and will send follow-up notifications to patients prior to their second appointment in the complex two-shot regimen, Bloomberg reported.

Healthvana Chief Executive Officer Ramin Bastani said it would also allow holders to easily verify their vaccination record “to prove to airlines, to prove to schools, to prove to whoever needs it.”

Founded in 2014, Healthvana began working with the county this year to send COVID-19 test results to patients. Claire Jarashow, director of vaccine preventable disease control in L.A.  County’s Department of Public Health said the startup’s relationship with locals made it a good choice for the project.

Critics have warned that the project could lead to medical information becoming the subject of a government or private company “data grab.”

“This great moment of hope must not be seen opportunistically as yet another data grab,” said Privacy International, according to the Daily Mail. ‘The deployment of vaccines, and in particular any ‘immunity passport’ or certificate linked to the vaccination, must respect human rights.”

Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the idea, writing, “Any immunity passport system endangers privacy rights by creating a new surveillance infrastructure to collect health data. It is one thing for an employee to voluntarily disclose their COVID-19 status to an employer on a one-off basis. But it si another for that information to be collected and retained, either by the government or by private companies offering immunity certifications.”

“The existing legal framework may not be sufficient to prevent this information from being shared, especially if it is held by private entities,” the ACLU added.

Jarashow said the record would be created to give patients easily-accessed ownership of their records, in addition to a paper card received when they take the vaccine.

“We’re really concerned. We really want people to come back for that second dose,” Jarashow said. And “we just don’t have the capacity to be doing hundreds of medical record requests to find people’s first doses and when they need to get their second.”

L.A. County has continued to see record case counts in recent weeks despite some of the harshest COVID-19 restrictions and lockdown measures. Jarashow said the county has been rushing to inoculate citizens “as quickly as humanly possible.”