On Friday, June 18, the state of California introduced a digital registry for residents who are vaccinated against COVID-19, whereby they receive a QR code and a digital copy of their vaccination record to access businesses or events that require proof they received the vaccine, the AP reported.

California, the first U.S. state to implement a coronavirus shutdown, marked the beginning of what was billed as the state’s “Grand Reopening” on Tuesday, 15 June.

Just in time for summer, California wants to send the message that life there is much closer to ‘normal’ by eliminating facemask mandates, social distancing, and capacity limits in restaurants, bars, supermarkets, gyms, stadiums, and other venues, but only for the vaccinated—the unvaccinated are not so lucky. 

Officials said the digital pass includes the same information as the paper cards issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

State epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan told reporters when asked about it, “Someone is likely to misplace their paper CDC card, and a digital COVID-19 vaccine record provides a convenient backup.

As AP also reported, companies can choose to make mask use optional, require everyone to wear a mask or use a vaccine verification system. 

For the latter, businesses will use a QR scanner, using an app expected to launch this month, to access information from a resident’s vaccination certificate—their name, date of birth, and vaccination details, according to Amy Tong, director of the state’s technology department.

With nearly 20 million people fully vaccinated in California, proof of vaccination is already required in some circumstances, such as travel. 

Vaccine verification has been a contentious issue in many U.S. communities, so several have banned state-required vaccine passports and some, including Texas, also banned businesses from requiring vaccinations.

California officials said the digital tool is not mandatory and refrained from using the word passport, which has become a controversial term. 

But many residents who do not want to be vaccinated in general because of their distrust of the experimental vaccine and the various adverse effects it has shown and which are becoming more numerous fear that it will be made mandatory sooner or later and are showing their displeasure. 

In Orange County, for example, community opposition to the implementation of the vaccine registry caused officials to back off the idea.

Several Republicans have opposed the vaccine passport because they see it as undermining all citizens’ freedom and rights. 

Republican Senator Ted Cruz was one of them, who in late May announced a bill to ban any federal vaccine passport, saying that in his view, no one should be forced to get vaccinated, that it should be a personal choice.

Cruz is not the first Republican to oppose the vaccine passport. In early April, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey reported that he signed an Executive Order banning the use of vaccine passports in the state. Similar actions were taken by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

De Santis explained in his executive order, “Florida seeks to ensure that any Floridian who desires a COVID-19 vaccine can obtain one, but such vaccines will not be mandatory. No COVID-19 vaccine is required by law. Individual COVID-19 vaccination records are private health information that should not be shared by legislation.”