While Massachusetts introduced an online service this week to help residents prove they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, the City of Boston is preparing to roll out a vaccine certificate app of its own.
The state system uses a website called My Vax Records, where people can download digital proof of vaccination from the Massachusetts Immunization Information System. Boston is going with a smartphone app called B Together that lets the user simply display a photograph of the white CDC card issued at the vaccination center.
“It was really about simplicity,” said Rahul Puri, chief product officer for GCOM, the Maryland-based company which developed the Boston vaccine app. “The purpose of this app wasn’t to have some sort of complex integrations and complex processes to get people to start using it.”
The B Together app will be made available on the Apple and Google app stores on Jan. 15. That’s the same day Boston’s vaccine mandate goes into effect, requiring people to show proof of vaccination before entering a variety of indoor spaces in the city, including restaurants, theaters, and fitness centers. By contrast, Governor Charlie Baker has rejected the idea of a statewide mandate compelling Massachusetts residents to prove they’ve been vaccinated.
After downloading the B Together app, users can photograph the white card they received after being vaccinated and load the image into the app. A user can include the vaccine credentials for an entire family, including children.
The app works on the honor system. There’s no way to prove that the photographed vaccination card was not forged. This differs to the state’s website, which generates a QR code with a digital signature proving that the document was issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Even this method isn’t foolproof, however; a user could put someone else’s digital document on their phone. But a state spokesperson said that venues that demand proof of vaccination should also demand a second piece of identification, like a driver’s license, to confirm the user’s identity.
The state’s vaccine certificate may have more staying power in the long run. It’s based on a technology standard called SMART Health Card, which is being adopted by multiple US states and foreign countries. Even so, a city spokesperson said that B Together users can get the best of both worlds, by adding images of their family’s SMART digital certificates instead of their paper vaccination cards.
Of course, Bostonians don’t have to use either the state-issued certificate or the city’s app to comply with the city’s vaccine mandate. (We can go old school and simply show our paper CDC cards.)
No matter what technology is used, some don’t like the idea of vaccine certificates, even if their use isn’t mandatory. “The Massachusetts Republican State Committee vehemently opposes a Vaccine Passport, whether it is Involuntary, Voluntary, or otherwise,” according to a resolution passed by the party’s executive committee in November.
Anthony M. Ventresca, the committee’s assistant treasurer, drafted the resolution. Ventresca said the party hasn’t taken an official position on the new vaccine certificates, but said he fears that it might open the door to mandatory vaccine passports.
“I am very concerned,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Our rights, liberties, and freedoms have been eroding incrementally for decades.”