Virginians with smartphones can now show they’re vaccinated without a card by displaying a QR code when employers or businesses require proof.
Before the Virginia Department of Health’s announcement Thursday, there wasn’t a streamlined standard for how employers statewide could confirm whether a worker was vaccinated — even as a growing number of companies, hospitals, school systems and state agencies were mandating vaccinations.
The variation in what employees needed to submit presented a complicated challenge. Some workplaces relied on the honor system. Others had workers fill out a form but didn’t ask for a photo of their vaccination card. Those that required a snapshot of the federally issued card had no way of knowing whether it was fraudulent.
Falsifying vaccine records, which is illegal, has become a burgeoning underground market that prompted the FBI to denounce the advertising of fake cards.
Short for “quick response,” QR codes protect against that while using a secure framework focused on individual privacy and having the same information as the vaccination cards, according to the VDH.
“Because the QR code is digitally signed by the Virginia Department of Health, it cannot be altered or forged. Information from QR codes is only available if and when the individual chooses to share it,” the VDH said in a statement. “Businesses and employers that choose to verify an individual’s vaccination status can scan QR codes with the free SMART Health Card Verifier app. Individuals do not need to download an app to use QR codes.”
Any vaccinated resident whose inoculation is linked to a working phone number and is in the statewide immunization system will have access to a QR code. Individuals can visit vaccinate.virginia.gov to find their record for free and then save their QR code to their photo gallery, print it out or store it in another digital format.
Virginia is the fifth state in the U.S. to use the SMART Health format that the health agency adopted on Thursday. Its standards were developed by more than 800 organizations, including Boston Children’s Hospital, Microsoft and the Mayo Clinic.
There is no requirement for any resident to use the codes, and their availability does not invalidate the paper copy with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seal.
Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, announced the development of the digital platform in August. In a media briefing, he emphasized the push was driven by a desire to create an easier path for places like restaurants requiring proof of vaccination to confirm vaccine status.
“But we aren’t going to have the actual passport or provide guidelines around how that should be used at all,” Avula said.
It’s possible some people might have vaccination details not reported in the state’s system.
“Vaccine providers in Virginia submit vaccination records to the Virginia Immunization Information System, but they may have provided information that’s incomplete, out of date or incorrect,” said VDH spokesperson Cindy Clayton. “So it’s likely we have your record, but not the correct information. For instance, a mobile phone number may not match, a name may be spelled incorrectly or an address is out of date or incorrect.”
For Virginians who have had this happen, Clayton advises contacting the vaccine provider to update the record or calling the state line at (877) 829-4682.