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Report: New York’s ‘obsolete’ vaccine passport still costing taxpayers


(The Center Square) — New Yorkers are still paying a jaw-dropping $200,000 a month for a COVID-19 vaccine “passport” app that is no longer being used by the state, according to a published report.

  • By Christian Wade | The Center Square contributor
  • May 16th, 2023
FILE vaccine passport NY
In this undated photo, provided by NY Governor’s Press Office on Saturday March 27, 2021, is the new “Excelsior Pass” app, a digital pass that people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.NY Governor’s Press Office via AP

The Albany Times Herald reported on Sunday that the Excelsior app, created to verify COVID-19 vaccinations as New York lifted pandemic restrictions on restaurants and live event venues in early 2021, has cost the state more than $64 million and counting. 

The Excelsior App was supposed to cost New York $2.5 million when it debuted, but costs grew after state officials outsourced much of its development, the newspaper reported. 

New York’s digital pass, which former Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled in March 2021, allows people to download an app to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who took over after Cuomo resigned amid sexual harassment claims, later expanded the program to verify out-of-state health data. 

The vaccine verification app works similarly to a mobile airline boarding pass and uses a secure code that can be stored in a smartphone or printed out for scanning. The system was developed in collaboration with the Vaccine Credential Initiative – a coalition of public and private organizations, including the Mayo Clinic and Microsoft.

But who are you really…?

The newspaper reported that New York state had paid IBM $36 million to maintain a database containing personal information stored with the app, which at least 11 million New Yorkers have downloaded over the past two years. Two consulting firms, Boston Consulting Group and Deloitte, have been paid $28 million, the report noted. 

Political observers note that, like many states, New York’s rules on competitive bidding and oversight were eased during the pandemic to help the state quickly procure medical supplies such as personal protective equipment during the nationwide public health emergency. 

“Those are the dangers of emergency orders and no-bid contracts and a lack of checks and balances,” Bill Hammond, senior fellow for health policy at the conservative Empire Center for Public Policy, told the newspaper. “Those are all dangerous situations, but they grew out of a true crisis that warranted waiving some of those rules, at least for a time.”

Meanwhile, the state continues to pay IBM $200,000 a month for data storage services related to the Excelsior Pass, the newspaper reported. In March, the state spent $2.2 million for “application development” of the Excelsior Pass despite the fact the app is now seldom used, according to the report. 

Nationally, the use of so-called “vaccine passports” was a flashpoint in the battle over COVID-19 precautions, with Republicans criticizing the practice as government overreach.

At least 18 states led by Republican governors or with GOP-controlled Legislatures prohibit the use of vaccine passports or ban public entities from requiring proof of vaccination.

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