OET’s Digital Vaccine Record already serving more than 1 million

By Rick Klau
State Chief Technology Innovation Officer

July 13, 2021 – I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in April, and a paper card I folded into my wallet.

By the time I got my second dose towards the end of that month, my team at CDT in the Office of Enterprise Technology was looking into how we could give Californians the option of having a digital vaccination record – one that is harder to misplace, and won’t get ripped, dog-eared or disappear in the wash. Less than two months later, we released the Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record portal, a voluntary system that gives every vaccinated Californian who wants one a digital version of their vaccine record that is also a SMART Health Card. With this digital record, California residents have an opt-in, secure, and shareable digital copy of their COVID-19 vaccination record to use as they see fit.

Less than two weeks after the launch, we delivered more than 1 million digital vaccine records to California residents who visited the site, and more are downloaded every day. It’s great to see such demand for a first-of-its-kind service in California, and as we join others in supporting the SMART Health Cards framework, like the state of Louisiana, Walmart, UC San Diego Health, and others coming soon, I wanted to share a bit about what you can do with your digital vaccine record and how it works.

First, this is a digital copy of your CDC card. It provides the same official record as does your paper vaccination card. Information contained in your digital record is drawn from the California immunization registry database. In addition to the text display with your name, date of birth, vaccine dates and vaccine manufacturer, there is also a QR code. We used the SMART Health Cards framework standard to generate the QR code. Your digital vaccine record can be stored on your camera roll or in apps* on your phone, and can be scanned by venue operators with SMART Health Card compliant scanners. Simply scanning cards will move more people through high-attendance event lines faster than visual inspections. On July 12, Hawaii announced that your SMART Health Card can serve as proof of vaccination for California residents traveling to Hawaii.

Several folks on Twitter expressed confusion about why their smartphone camera, when pointed at their digital vaccine record, read “no usable data found.” This isn’t a bug – we did this to protect your information and privacy.

If you try to scan your QR code using your personal phone camera, you might see a long string of text, starting with the prefix “shc:/”, which indicates that the information to follow is a SMART Health Card. (iPhone users who try scanning this with their camera get the “no usable data found” message.)

The code is only readable by a SMART Health Card scanner, like the SMART Health Card Verifier App from the Commons Project, and it indicates the QR code contains an official record of the state of California. If the code were altered, it would not scan. The QR code includes the same information presented on the digital vaccine record webpage: your name, your date of birth, and the date(s) of your vaccination(s). For a whole lot more about the technology behind the SMART Health Card, this deep dive from Dr. Ravi is a great starting point.

The Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record is not proof of identity, but a confirmation of a vaccination record belonging to the individual named, who was born on the date specified. Whether a California resident wants a digital vaccine record, or wants to share it with others, is entirely up to them.

A final note on the digital vaccine record system design: in order to generate a digital vaccine record, we need to match contact information entered on the portal  with contact information already on file with the California Immunization Registry. In most cases, the vaccination provider submitted the resident’s contact information with the report of their vaccination itself. In those cases, the resident will be able to retrieve their digital vaccine record.

However, if contact information is missing from the immunization registry, the portal form will not return a link. Before the launch, we strove to ensure that providers entered as much contact information in the system as possible. By continuing to work closely with the vaccination providers, even more contact information has been added to the underlying registry for several million California residents. If you can’t retrieve your record, contact your provider and ask them to send updated contact information to the state’s immunization registry. You can also use the California Department of Public Health’s Virtual Assistant to get your record updated. (Submitted information will need to be verified, and may take some time before it’s reflected in the system.)

It is always exciting to be part of a big launch like this, and even more exciting to see dramatic progress in a short period. As we move past the 1 million record mark, I’m looking forward to seeing feedback in the months ahead on how we can make the digital vaccine record even more useful for Californians. Keep in touch with us on Twitter at @CADeptTech, and keep an eye on this blog for future updates.

*Apps that store the Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record: