New York is piloting a mobile COVID-19 vaccine passport

Following trial runs at NHL and NBA games, New Yorkers will gain access to an IBM-based digital wallet that proves they've been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Madison Square Garden
People walk around Madison Square Garden before the game between the Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks on February 23, 2021 in New York City. For the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Madison Square Garden reopened its doors at limited capacity. (John Smith / VIEWpress / Getty Images)

New York State piloted a digital COVID-19 vaccine passport at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn last weekend where basketball fans were able, via a digital card on their phones, to provide proof they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine. (The Dallas Mavericks beat the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday 115-98.)

The “Excelsior Pass,” first announced by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his State of the State address in January, was developed with help from IBM as a virtual wallet for storing medical records. The plan, according to the governor’s office, is to use the digital wallet to fast track the reopening of certain businesses and events, especially large venues like sports arenas.

The app isn’t available on the Google or Apple app stores yet, but the governor’s office said it will be made widely available after a second pilot is conducted at an NHL game at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday when the New York Rangers face off against the Buffalo Sabres.

“We’re doing everything we can to vaccinate as many New Yorkers as possible, as quickly as possible, while keeping the infection rate down and reenergizing our economy in a safe, smart way,” Cuomo said in a press release. “As we begin reopening the valves on different sectors of our economy, we are putting guidelines in place to ensure individuals attending events involving larger gatherings have tested negative for COVID or have been vaccinated to avoid an outbreak of the virus.”


People who use the new digital pass will be able to choose what kinds of medical information they’d like to keep stored on their phone without sharing excess personal data, according to the state, which also said it will offer a printed credential as proof of a COVID-19 vaccine alongside the digital pass. Each pass has a unique QR code that businesses or venues can scan to confirm the user’s vaccination status.

The state’s new system is built using IBM’s digital health pass framework, which uses blockchain technology to ensure that the health information stored on the pass is kept secure. The blockchain technology behind IBM’s pass is also interoperable, IBM claims, so similar passes can be used by other state or local agencies in the future.

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