Google makes it possible to store digital versions of either COVID-19 test results or vaccination cards on users’ Android devices. The company on Wednesday announced it’s updating its Passes API, which will give developers at healthcare organizations, government agencies, and other organizations authorized by public health authorities the ability to create digital versions of tests and vaccination cards that can then be saved directly to the user’s device. The Passes API is typically used to store boarding passes, loyalty cards, gift cards, tickets, and more to users’ Google Pay wallets. However, the Google Pay app, in this case, will not be required, Google says.
Instead, users without the Google Pay app will have the option to store the digital version of the COVID Card directly to their device, where it’s accessible from a home screen shortcut. Because Google is not retaining a copy of the card, anyone who needs to store the COVID Card on multiple devices will need to download it individually on each one from the healthcare provider or other organization’s app.
The cards themselves show the healthcare provider or organization’s logo and branding at the top, followed by the person’s name, date of birth, and other relevant information, like the vaccine manufacturer or date of shot or test. According to a support document, healthcare providers or organizations could alert users to the ability to download their card via email, text, or through a mobile website or app.
In an example photo, Google showed the COVID-19 Vaccination Card from Healthvana, which serves L.A. County. However, it didn’t provide any other information about which healthcare providers are interested in or planning to adopt the new technology. Reached for comment, Google says there are some other big partners and states in the pipeline, but it doesn’t have permission to share those names at this time. Over the next few weeks, some of these names will be released, we understand.
The Passes API update doesn’t mean Android users can immediately create digital versions of their COVID vaccination cards — something people have been taking pictures of as a means of backup or, unfortunately, in some cases, laminating it. (That’s not advised, however, as the card is meant to be used again for recording booster shots.)
Instead, the update gives developers the ability to begin building tools to export the data they have in their own systems about people’s COVID tests and vaccinations to a local digital card on Android devices. To what extent these digital cards will become broadly available to end-users will depend on developer adoption.
For the feature to work, the Android device needs to run Android 5 or later, and it will need to be Play Protect certified, which is a licensing program that ensures the machine is running real Google apps. Users will also need to set a lock screen on their devices for additional security.
Google says the update will initially roll out in the U.S., followed by other countries. The U.S. is behind other markets in making digital versions of vaccination cards possible. Today, the E.U.’s COVID certificate, which shows an individual’s vaccination status, test results, or recovery status from COVID-19, went live. The certificate (EUDCC) will be recognized by all E.U. members and will aid with cross-border travel. Israel released a vaccine passport earlier this year that allows vaccinated people to show their “green pass” at places that require vaccinations. Japan aims to have vaccination passports ready by the end of July for international travel.
In the U.S., only a few states have active vaccine certification apps. Many others have outright banned vaccine passports — which has become a politically loaded term — or are considering doing so. Given this context, Google’s digital vaccination card is just that — a digital copy of a paper card. It’s not tied to any other government initiatives, nor is it a “vaccine passport.”