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What’s happening with covid vaccine apps in the US

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What’s happening with covid vaccine apps in the US


A year ago, vaccines to tackle the covid pandemic still seemed like a far-off idea. Today, though, doses have been delivered to almost 40% of the world’s people—and some are being asked to prove they’re among them, leading to the rise of so-called vaccine passports. The details of these credentials vary from place to place, but at their heart they are the same: digital health records, stored on your phone, to use as proof that you are a low risk to others.

Supporters of digital vaccination credentials say the benefits are clear: they make congregating less risky while incentivizing vaccinations. But critics see drawbacks and disadvantages. They say introducing restrictions infringes on civil liberties, unfairly punishes those who cannot get vaccinated (and discriminates against those who will not), unleashes another form of surveillance, and worsens inequalities rather than eradicating them. 

Faced with this divergence of views, governments are taking very different approaches. In Europe, for example, seven countries launched a “digital green certificate” at the beginning of June, with another 21 nations due to join shortly. But some places are taking the opposite stance, strictly limiting the use of such documents or even banning their development altogether.

Along with these debates, there is still basic confusion about how systems would be used. Some, like the EU’s app, are for traveling between nations. Others, like New York State’s, are for getting into everyday places like restaurants and events. The term “passport” itself is becoming more ambiguous and more politically loaded: when California governor Gavin Newsom announced the launch of his state’s digital certificate, he specifically stated, “It’s not a passport; it’s not a requirement.”

We looked at the status of digital vaccine systems in all 50 states

President Joe Biden has already said there won’t be a national app, leaving the choice to states. Some states have banned the apps outright as examples of government overreach. Often the debate over the technology seems like a proxy for a larger question: Should governments and businesses be allowed to require vaccination for covid?

A few key takeaways:

  • Most states have addressed the technology in some way, either in legislation or in comments from a lawmaker, a public health official, or the governor.
  • 7 states have active vaccine certification apps, rising from 4 at our last count.
  • 22 states have banned the systems to some degree, typically through executive orders. Most, though not all, of these states are Republican-led. 

Each state is listed on the map according to the current legal status of vaccine apps at the time of publication. “Active” indicates that a state has created and released a digital system for showing that you have been vaccinated against covid. It does not mean that presenting vaccination credentials is mandatory state-wide, although there may be such requirements on a local level.

  • Alabama: Governor Kay Ivey signed legislation on May 24 to ban digital vaccine credentials. The Alabama House of Representatives voted 76-16 to approve the bill. (Source: AP News)
  • Alaska: Governor Mike Dunleavy issued Administrative Order No. 321 on April 26 stating that the state of Alaska will not require vaccine certification in order to travel to, or around, Alaska. (Source: Alaska State Website)
  • Arizona: A bill passed on June 30 says employees cannot be required to get vaccinated if they have “sincerely held religious beliefs, practices or observances that prevent them from getting the covid-19 vaccine.” But exceptions can be made, and, and, healthcare institutions can require employees to be vaccinated. (Source: NASHP)
  • Arkansas: On April 20, Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a law that prevents state and local governments from requiring covid-19 vaccine or proof of vaccination in order to access services. The state’s majority-Republican Senate voted 23-8 to ban digital vaccine credentials. (Source: ABC Little Rock)
  • California: As of June 11, California offers a Digital Covid-19 Vaccination Record, and, effective September 20, vaccine proof for 1,000+ person events will be required. (Source: NBC LA) Workers in schools and state and local governments need to be vaccinated by October 15, or take weekly tests. (Source: State Governor’s website). San Francisco now requires vaccine proof for many indoor leisure spaces, and Los Angeles could follow suit. (Source: NPR)
  • Colorado: While presenting vaccine credentials is not required, residents can create a digital record of their vaccine cards on a state app. (Source: Denver Post) On July 30, Governor Jared Polis announced that unvaccinated state employees have to wear masks at work and get tested twice a week (Source: AP News), while Denver city employees and high-risk private workers will need vaccinations by Sept. 30. (Source: AP News
  • Connecticut: There is no vaccine certification requirement, but in March Governor Ned Lamont said that vaccine passports could be introduced in Connecticut through the private sector (Source: CT Post) An executive order signed on August 6 mandates all employees of long-term care facilities to receive at least one dose by September 7. (Source: AP News)
  • Delaware: No plans to establish a digital system. Governor John Carney is considering a targeted approach that would aim vaccine mandates at high-risk groups. Verification of vaccination status remains a hurdle, the Governor says. (Source: Delaware Public Media)
  • Florida: Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 2006 on April 2, effectively banning vaccine certification, blocking any business or government entity from requiring proof of covid-19 vaccination (Source: FL Governor website)
  • Georgia: Governor Brian Kemp issued executive order May 25 prohibiting vaccine proof in state government. No vaccine passport shall be required for entry into the state of Georgia. State employers shall not have different rules for employees based on vaccination status, unless such rules are implemented using an honor code system and no proof of vaccination is required. (Source: GA Governor website)
  • Hawaii: Travelers to or within Hawaii are required to upload proof of vaccination in the state’s Safe Travels program or vaccine records via several partners, including AZOVA, CLEAR and CommonPass. State and county workers need to get vaccinated as of mid-August (Source: Hawaii News Now) while college and university students are also required to show proof of vaccination or take weekly tests. (Source: Star Advertiser)
  • Idaho: Governor Brad Little issued an executive order on April 7 banning the state government from requiring or issuing vaccine digital vaccine credentials. (Source: U.S. News/AP)
  • Illinois: Public health commissioner Allison Arwady said that the “Vax Pass” will be required to attend concerts and other summer events. (Source: Illinois Policy) On August 13, Chicago Public Schools announced vaccine mandates for all teachers and staff in city schools. (Source: Chicago Sun Times)
  • Indiana: Lawmakers passed a ban on April 22. The legislation, HB 1405, bans the state or local governments from issuing or requiring vaccine certification. (Source: WFYI Indianapolis
  • Iowa: Governor Kim Reynolds signed a law, House File 889, on May 20 that will withhold state grants and contracts from local governments or businesses that require customers to prove they have received a covid vaccine. The law also prevents state and local governments from including a person’s vaccination status on a government-issued identification card. (Source: Des Moines Register)
  • Kansas: Lawmakers approved a proposal that includes a ban on vaccine certification on May 7, which has been signed into law by Governor Laura Kelly. The law “prohibits state agencies from issuing covid-19 vaccination passports to individuals without consent, or requiring vaccination passports within the state for any purpose.” (Source: NASHP)
  • Kentucky: Not required in the state. State Representative Brandon Reed has proposed a bill that would ban the government from enforcing vaccine requirements. (Source: The Times Tribune) State workers need to get vaccinated or get tested twice a week starting October 1. (Source: Lexington Herald Leader)
  • Louisiana: Vaccine certification is not required, but residents are able to show digital proof of vaccination via the LA Wallet mobile app, the state’s digital driver’s license app (Source: AP News) A citywide vaccine mandate is slated to soon require proof of vaccination or a recent negative test to gain entry into restaurants, bars and other indoor venues in New Orleans. (Source: nola.com) A statewide ban was proposed but vetoed by the governor.
  • Maine: Officials are not planning on developing a statewide vaccine certification system. Residents are encouraged to use their CDC-issued immunization record card if vaccination proof is required for an activity or for travel. (Source: AP News)
  • Maryland: Vaccine certification is not required currently, but is not off the table (Source: 11 News). The biotechnical distribution company MyBioSource.Com surveyed 3,000 Marylanders, and overall, 63% of Marylanders believe vaccine passports should be used. (Source: CBS Baltimore)
  • Massachusetts: Governor Charlie Baker said on April 8 that he is opposed to requiring proof of vaccination, but no ban has yet been passed. (Source: Boston Globe
  • Michigan: House of Representatives passed a bill, HB 4667, on June 2 to ban digital vaccine certification or any other system where individuals’ civil rights are diminished by vaccine status. (Source: U.S. News
  • Minnesota: Senate passed bill S1589-2 in May stating that no person must be required to possess, wear, or display any indicator that they have “received a negative or positive test result or possesses the antibodies for a communicable disease.” The Minnesota Department of Health has been prohibited from forcing  people to participate in covid testing, contact tracing, or digital contact tracing. (Source: Minnesota State Republican Caucus website)
  • Mississippi: Currently not pursuing the use of a certification system. Governor Tate Reeves said in April that he doesn’t support vaccine passports. (Source: CNN) House Bill 719 was introduced to ban vaccine mandates but failed to pass in April. (Source: Mississippi Clarion Ledger)
  • Missouri: Governor Mike Parson approved provisions to House Bill HB271 in June, a bill that aims to ban vaccine certification systems. The bill prohibits local governments that receive public funds from requiring proof of vaccination for access to public transportation or other services. (Source: Springfield News Leader)
  • Montana: Governor Greg Gianforte issued an executive order on April 13 prohibiting state-sponsored development and required use of vaccine proof. (Source: Montana State website
  • Nebraska: Governor Pete Ricketts issued a statement on March 13 saying that the state will not participate in the vaccine certification program. No update on statewide ban or legislation yet. (Source: Nebraska Government website)
  • Nevada: No active statewide ban on vaccine proof; it is not required within the state. Senator Jacky Rosen said on May 4 that she does not support requiring vaccine passports for local events. (Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal). Two counties, Elko and Lander, have passed resolutions to ban vaccine passports. (Source: The Nevada Independent)
  • New Hampshire: Governor Chris Sununu signed the “medical freedom” immunization bill into law on July 25. The bill prohibits government agencies (including school districts) from mandating vaccines or requiring proof of vaccination for access to their buildings or services, although that may change if covid-19 vaccination is added to the state’s required immunizations list. Some exemptions apply. (Sources: AP News, New Hampshire Bulletin)
  • New Jersey: Governor Phil Murphy said in April that he was open to the idea but that the state would follow federal guidance. (Source: Philly Inquirer); In July, the governor unveiled a phone app called Docket, which is a place to store a digital vaccine record but “is not a vaccine passport.” (Source: nj.com)
  • New Mexico: Has no plans to issue its own certification system or limit access to services based on vaccine status, but businesses are free to make their own decisions about whom to admit and serve. (Source: New Mexico Magazine
  • New York: The state has implemented a vaccine status system, the Excelsior Pass (Source: MIT Technology Review) which is available for iPhone and Android in nearly a dozen languages.(Source: NY State website) By September 13, New York City will require proof of covid-19 vaccination for indoor leisure activities. (Source: MIT Technology Review)
  • North Carolina: Not required in the state. The state House of Representatives urged Governor Roy Cooper to reject attempts to create a vaccine proof system on April 21, with 65 Republican lawmakers sending a letter to oppose it. (Source: WCNC Charlotte
  • North Dakota: Lawmakers passed a limited ban on vaccine certification and amended the ban into HB1465 on April 29. The law bans state and local governments from requiring proof documents and prohibits business—with some exceptions—from requiring vaccination documents of customers and patrons for access, entry, or services. The legislature also passed a resolution, SCR4016, urging Congress to refrain from a system for showing proof of vaccination. (Source: The Bismarck Tribune)
  • Ohio: Governor Mike DeWine made a commitment that the state will not create nor require vaccine certification, but has left the issue of private sector requirements up to individual businesses. Bill SB 111 that prohibits vaccine mandates has passed but has not been signed into law by the governor. (Source: NASHP)
  • Oklahoma: Governor Kevin Stitt issued an executive order on May 28 banning state agencies from requiring vaccinations as a condition of entry to public buildings. He also signed SB658, which prohibits schools from requiring covid vaccinations for K-12 students or implementing mask mandates that would apply only to unvaccinated students. (Source: The Oklahoman
  • Oregon: In early August, Governor Kate Brown issued new rules requiring health care workers to get vaccinated or submit to regular testing (Source: AP News); and will require all state employees to be vaccinated by October 18, including teachers and school staff. (Source: AP News) Brown also announced a strict new statewide mask mandate that even applies outdoors . (Source: AP News)
  • Pennsylvania: On July 1, Governor Tom Wolf vetoed Senate Bill 618 that sought to ban vaccine certification and limit future actions during health emergencies. (Source: PA Governor)
  • Rhode Island: Governor Dan McKee said on May 18 that he is leaving it to business owners and employers to decide mask-wearing and vaccination rules for themselves. (Source: The Providence Journal) But in August he announced that health care workers at state facilities must get vaccinated before October 1 or get tested regularly. (Source: Boston Globe) City workers in Providence will face the same measures starting in October. (Source: WPRI)
  • South Carolina: Governor Henry McMaster issued an executive order on May 11 that prevents local governments and schools from creating mask mandates. The order also bans local governments, state agencies, and state employees from requiring vaccine credentials. (Source: WebMD)
  • South Dakota: Governor Kristi Noem issued an executive order on April 21 banning the development or use of vaccine proof systems. (Source AP News)
  • Tennessee: State senate passed a ban on vaccine passports with SB0858 on April 14; Governor Bill Lee said in April on Twitter he “opposes vaccine passports. The covid-19 vaccine should be a personal health choice, not a government requirement.” (Source: The Hill)
  • Texas: Governor Greg Abbot signed bill SB968 into law on June 7, which bans businesses from requiring proof of the vaccine; vaccine proofs are prohibited in the state. (Source: Texas Tribune). Local vaccine mandates are also banned via executive order (Source: NPR). 
  • Utah: A law passed in April, HB308, blocks state government from requiring people to get vaccinated. (Source: Salt Lake Tribune) Governor Spencer Cox confirmed that vaccine certification will not be used in the state. (Source: CBS Local KUTV)
  • Vermont: House of Representatives introduced a bill, H452, to ban vaccine proof systems on May 20, but the bill did not advance. (Source: Vermont Daily Chronicle) In a recent announcement, Governor Phil Scott instituted a vaccine requirement for staff at some state facilities. Unvaccinated workers at these facilities will have to submit to regular testing. (Source: VPR)
  • Virginia: Governor Ralph Northam has not ruled out proof of vaccination as a condition for entry into certain places—but in May he said his administration has no plans to use them in the state. (Source: Wavy.Com)
  • Washington: Although a senator introduced a ban in April (which has not passed), Governor Jay Inslee announced new vaccine mandates for state and health care workers, who will be required to show vaccine proof by October 18. (Source: AP News) Amid a spike in cases, the requirements expanded to include teachers and school staff, including those at state colleges and universities. (Source: AP News)
  • West Virginia: No requirements, but Governor Jim Justice has not prohibited proof-of-vaccination requirements at any level of government. (Source: Ballotpedia)  
  • Wisconsin: No active ban or requirements for vaccine credentials; a series of bills were introduced in April to ban vaccine proof systems in the state. (Source: CBS Milwaukee)
  • Wyoming: Governor Mark Gordon issued a directive on May 7 preventing state agencies, boards, and commissions from requiring people to show vaccination status to access state spaces or get state services (Source: Oil City News). Representative Chuck Gray said on June 8 he is drafting a bill to officially ban vaccine certification systems in the state. (Source: Oil City News)

What’s next

If you have information on how in your city, state, or country is using vaccine certification, or if you know of unusual uses of covid status apps, please help us keep our list up to date by emailing ctt@technologyreview.com. We will update as new information comes to light.

A previous version of this story was published on July 1, 2021. This story is part of the Pandemic Technology Project, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation.



Tech

The Download: a curb on climate action, and post-Roe period tracking

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The US Supreme Court just gutted federal climate policy


Why’s it so controversial?: Geoengineering was long a taboo topic among scientists, and some argue it should remain one. There are questions about its potential environmental side effects, and concerns that the impacts will be felt unevenly across the globe. Some feel it’s too dangerous to ever try or even to investigate, arguing that just talking about the possibility could weaken the need to address the underlying causes of climate change.

But it’s going ahead?: Despite the concerns, as the threat of climate change grows and major nations fail to make rapid progress on emissions, growing numbers of experts are seriously exploring the potential effects of these approaches. Read the full story.

—James Temple

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 The belief that AI is alive refuses to die
People want to believe the models are sentient, even when their creators deny it. (Reuters)
+ It’s unsurprising wild religious beliefs find a home in Silicon Valley. (Vox)
+ AI systems are being trained twice as quickly as they were just last year. (Spectrum IEEE)

2 The FBI added the missing cryptoqueen to its most-wanted list
It’s offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to Ruja Ignatova, whose crypto scheme defrauded victims out of more than $4 billion. (BBC)
+ A new documentary on the crypto Ponzi scheme is in the works. (Variety)

3 Social media platforms turn a blind eye to dodgy telehealth ads
Which has played a part in the prescription drugs abuse boom. (Protocol)
+ The doctor will Zoom you now. (MIT Technology Review)

4 We’re addicted to China’s lithium batteries
Which isn’t great news for other countries building electric cars. (Wired $)
+ This battery uses a new anode that lasts 20 times longer than lithium. (Spectrum IEEE)
+ Quantum batteries could, in theory, allow us to drive a million miles between charges. (The Next Web)

5 Far-right extremists are communicating over radio to avoid detection
Making it harder to monitor them and their violent activities. (Slate $)
+ Many of the rioters who stormed the Capitol were carrying radio equipment. (The Guardian)

6 Bro culture has no place in space 🚀
So says NASA’s former deputy administrator, who’s sick and tired of misogyny in the sector. (CNN)

7 A US crypto exchange is gaining traction in Venezuela
It’s helping its growing community battle hyperinflation, but isn’t as decentralized as they believe it to be. (Rest of World)
+ The vast majority of NFT players won’t be around in a decade. (Vox)
+ Exchange Coinbase is working with ICE to track and identify crypto users. (The Intercept)
+ If RadioShack’s edgy tweets shock you, don’t forget it’s a crypto firm now. (NY Mag)

8 It’s time we learned to love our swamps
Draining them prevents them from absorbing CO2 and filtering out our waste. (New Yorker $)
+ The architect making friends with flooding. (MIT Technology Review) 

9 Robots love drawing too 🖍️
Though I’ll bet they don’t get as frustrated as we do when they mess up. (Input)

10 The risky world of teenage brains
Making potentially dangerous decisions is an important part of adolescence, and our brains reflect that. (Knowable Magazine)

Quote of the day

“They shamelessly celebrate an all-inclusive pool party while we can’t even pay our rent!”

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The US government is developing a solar geoengineering research plan

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The US government is developing a solar geoengineering research plan


The move, which has not been previously reported on, marks the first federally coordinated US effort of this kind. It could set the stage for more funding and research into the feasibility, benefits, and risks of such interventions. The effort may also contribute to the perception that geoengineering is an appropriate and important area of research as global temperatures rise.

Solar geoengineering encompasses a range of different approaches. The one that’s gained the most attention is using planes or balloons to disperse tiny particles in the stratosphere. These would then—in theory—reflect back enough sunlight to ease warming, mimicking the effect of massive volcanic eruptions in the past. Some research groups have also explored whether releasing certain particles could break up cirrus clouds, which trap heat against the Earth, or make low-lying marine clouds more reflective.

The 2022 federal appropriations act, signed by President Biden in March, directs his Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a cross-agency group to coordinate research on such climate interventions, in partnership with NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Department of Energy. 

The measure calls for the group to create a research framework to “provide guidance on transparency, engagement, and risk management for publicly funded work in solar geoengineering research.” Specifically, it directs NOAA to support the Office of Science and Technology Policy in developing a five-year plan that will, among other things, define research goals for the field, assess the potential hazards of such climate interventions, and evaluate the level of federal investments required to carry out that work. 

Geoengineering was long a taboo topic among scientists, and some argue it should remain one. There are questions about potential environmental side effects, and concerns that the impacts will be felt unevenly in different parts of the globe. It’s not clear how the world will grapple with tricky questions regarding global governance, including who should make decisions about whether to deploy such powerful tools and what global average temperatures we should aim for. Some feel that geoengineering is too dangerous to ever try or even to investigate, arguing that just talking about the possibility could make the need to address the underlying causes of climate change feel less urgent.

But as the threat of climate change grows and major nations fail to make rapid progress on emissions, more researchers, universities, and nations are seriously exploring the potential effects of these approaches. A handful of prominent scientific groups, in turn, have called for stricter standards to guide that work, more money to do it, or both. That includes the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which last year recommended setting up a US solar geoengineering research program with an initial investment of $100 million to $200 million over five years. 

Proponents of geoengineering research, while stressing that cutting emissions must remain the highest priority, say we should explore these possibilities because they may meaningfully reduce the dangers of climate change. They note that as heat waves, droughts, famines, wildfires, and other extreme events become more common or severe, these sorts of climate interventions may be among the few means available to rapidly ease widespread human suffering or ecological calamities. 

Setting standards

In a statement, the Office of Science and Technology Policy confirmed that it has created an interagency working group, as called for under the federal funding bill. It includes representatives of 10 research and mission agencies, including NOAA, NASA, and the Department of Energy.  

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How to track your period safely post-Roe

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How to track your period safely post-Roe


Why use a period tracker?

Stress or dietary changes, among other factors, can make periods irregular and unpredictable. Tracking them can help expose underlying health issues, such as fibroids, which are noncancerous uterine growths. It can also help people spot patterns in mood and energy, which can often be affected by ovulation. People trying to get pregnant often use period trackers to figure out when they’re most fertile. 

So why are people panicking?

The overturning of Roe v. Wade in the US triggered laws that made abortion illegal in 13 states, and more states are likely to ban abortion in the coming months. In states that have banned abortions, people could now be prosecuted if they are alleged to have had one. The worry is that their digital data footprint could be used to build such a case. Missing your period is not a crime, but evidence of it could be subpoenaed and used to bolster a case against someone suspected of an abortion. 

What do companies that make period-tracking apps have to say about this?

We reached out to some of the major period-tracking apps—Flo, Clue, and SpotOn (an app from Planned Parenthood)—for comment on what their privacy settings are and whether they would turn information over to authorities in states where abortion is illegal. Clue and SpotOn did not respond, though Clue stated on Twitter that because it is based in the European Union, it is not permitted to share data with authorities in the US: 

“We would have a primary legal duty under European law not to disclose any private health data. We repeat: we would not respond to any disclosure request or attempted subpoena of our users’ health data by US authorities. But we would let you and the world know if they tried.”

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