Misspelled names. One shot recorded, rather than two. Or nothing recorded at all.
The problems New Yorkers have run into attempting to download the Excelsior Pass, the digital form of proof that residents have been vaccinated, have ranged from frustrating to worrisome. And they reflect larger concerns: How up-to-date are the state’s vaccination data? How do we handle public health information? And why can’t the federal and state governments coordinate and communicate with each other, and with the providers?
More than a million people have successfully downloaded the Excelsior Pass. According to the state, 95% of those who’ve tried to download their passes did so successfully. But that leaves potentially tens of thousands of people who’ve had difficulty.
While vaccinated individuals can use the physical card provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the pass is meant to be a more convenient solution. And going forward it could be utilized in travel or even as an important tool to communicate about booster shots or other information.
But that will work only if everyone who wants a pass can get one. So the state needs to resolve quickly existing data and technology issues.
That starts with the federal government, which has yet to provide the state with vaccination records of those who got shots at Veterans Affairs facilities or other federal programs. The CDC has to improve communication with and coordination between the states, so vaccination records can be shared as necessary, and so a pass like New York’s could be used across state lines.
But some vaccinated at pharmacies and mass vaccination sites like Belmont Park have had issues, too. The state blames user error and provider mistakes for a lot of it. Pharmacies, hospitals and other facilities have to improve their data collection and customer service to help residents get answers. But deficiencies in the state’s information technology systems have been exposed during the pandemic, and they need upgrades, too.
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Meanwhile, the state has to improve how it communicates with New Yorkers about the difficulties and how to fix them. That starts with clearer, more user-friendly error messages that also spell out how to report problems, with better website and hotline help.
Too often, the state hotline directs Long Islanders to their providers, while the providers direct them back to the state, leaving them in a useless loop. That has to end.
To increase use of the digital app, the state now is providing Excelsior Pass signage at vaccination sites. Those efforts should expand to include ballparks, arenas, and other sites. For it to reach its potential, the pass must become far more pervasive.
The Excelsior Pass is just part of a larger conversation about public health records, our digital footprints, and how we’re going to move into a new normal. But if it’s going to become an important part of our future, as it should, the state has to get it right.
— The editorial board
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