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Vaccine passports are the ticket back to normal

Governor Baker needs to take a hint from the private sector and sign on to a verifiable digital solution.

The SMART Health Card is designed to provide a secure digital way of proving vaccination against COVID-19. Massachusetts should embrace a uniform vaccine credential standard like it.The Commons Project

For hockey and basketball fans eager to experience a game live and in person, cheering with fellow fans just like in the good old days, the requirement to produce proof of vaccination (or a negative COVID test) is a small price to pay.

But checking some 17,000 to 18,000 pieces of paper and photo IDs — in addition to the usual bag check — isn’t exactly going to be a piece of cake for TD Garden employees tasked with the job or for the patrons in line at game time.

The Garden is absolutely doing the right thing in requiring proof of vaccination. And it certainly isn’t alone among sports and performance venues around the state.


Symphony Hall is implementing a vaccination requirement. More than a dozen theaters in the Boston area, including the Huntington and the American Repertory Theater, have announced they would require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test as they reopen. And a host of live music venues like City Winery, Club Café, and Club Passim check those vax cards at the door.

But as vaccination requirements increasingly become the ticket back to normal, as they become just another part of doing business, it behooves the public sector to make the job of checking the authenticity of those vaccinations easier. And that means some form of uniform vaccine “passport” — a QR code, a chip, some kind of digital proof that the bearer has indeed gotten the requisite number of shots.

And that’s where this state, despite being a leader in technology, has fallen behind the curve.

Governor Charlie Baker confirmed in an interview on GBH News’s “Boston Public Radio” last week that his administration has been exploring the concept of vaccine passports by talking with leaders in other jurisdictions that have implemented them “and working through how that would work here in the Commonwealth.”


“Getting to the point where there’s a relatively simple process for people to credential the fact that they’ve been vaccinated will be important for a whole bunch of reasons,” Baker said.

Well, indeed it would — that upcoming Bruins opener at the Garden being a conspicuous case in point.

Those somewhat awkward (whatever happened to wallet-sized?) but much-valued official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cards are fairly easily counterfeited — although misspelling Moderna remains a major forgery faux pas. Even the honest among us live in mortal fear of losing the thing and having to go back to a health care provider for new proof of vaccination.

It doesn’t have to be that way — and, yes, there is an app for that.

Israel’s so-called Green passport, basically a cellphone app, was launched last February. Updates will allow it to document not just vaccinations but negative COVID tests as well.

New York State’s Excelsior pass, in use since April, is a QR code that can be stored on a smartphone or printed out. Its second-generation version launched in August.

Similar “passes” are already in use in California and Louisiana. They use the SMART Health Card standard for digital vaccine certificates, based on technology developed right here at Boston Children’s Hospital.

One of that standard’s supporters, JP Pollak, cofounder of The Commons Project, a global nonprofit, told Globe technology writer Hiawatha Bray, “We’ve gotten most of the big health care technology vendors in the country [signed up]. We’ve got most of the big pharmacy chains, all of the key health systems. Several states have agreed to adopt this particular standard.”


Massachusetts still has no statewide system, Baker’s explorations notwithstanding. Some consumers who got their shots at CVS, Walgreens, or Walmart may get their SMART cards through those providers, which is fine for them but leaves those who used mass vaccination sites out of luck.

Uniformity — and credibility — are key here. And for those concerned that every supermarket and gym will suddenly know their secrets, they can rest assured that SMART cards contain only the user’s name, date of birth, and testing and vaccination status, not any other health information.

The governor owes the private sector a little leadership on the issue. If there is a technology that can speed up lines at the Garden, assure the safety of concertgoers, and assure employers and patients at the state’s nursing homes that caregivers are fully vaccinated, this administration should be stepping up to implement it — and soon.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.