How Do Vaccine Passes Work?

Key Takeaways:

  • Some event producers and organizers are utilizing digital health passes such as Health Pass by CLEAR and the IBM Digital Health Pass to check attendees’ vaccination status.
  • In regards to privacy concerns, event organizers are not able to access any other health information through these platforms.
  • Color-coded RFD wristbands help facilitate contact tracing, allowing event pros to collect contact info and notify attendees who might have been exposed to COVID-19 at an event.

Many event pros predicted (or had at least hoped) that the second half of 2021 would see the much-anticipated return of large-scale, in-person events, with a noticeable uptick in bookings already on the calendar. But the recent surge in Coronavirus cases related to the Delta variant has thrown the industry into uncertainty once again.

Because of that, the debate on whether or not to require proof of vaccination upon entry to events seems to have been decided, with many cities and states like New York and San Francisco, along with production companies and organizers of major events and conferences such as the Sundance Film Festival and the Consumer Electronics Show, announcing that residents and event attendees will need to show their vaccine cards—either a physical hard copy or via digital means—in order to enter indoor facilities as well as event spaces.

During our recent webinar, “The Next Chapter of COVID: How the Push for Health/Vaccine Passes and the Delta Variant are Reshaping Plans for In-Person Events,” industry experts shared their thoughts on the use of vaccine passes and provided insight into how to implement a vaccine or testing requirement at events.

A secure, digital alternative to paper vaccination cards or test results for COVID-19, the IBM Digital Health Pass was designed for various use cases, including travel, businesses, and events, explained Eric Piscini, Global VP of Payer and Emerging Business Networks at IBM Watson Health. New York State implemented this tool, branded the Excelsior Pass, as a voluntary way for residents to retrieve proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results. With their smartphones, New Yorkers are able to easily store a digital form of their health credentials—similar to a mobile airline boarding pass—instead of carrying a CDC vaccination card. Users are also able to print their pass from the Excelsior Pass website.

Participating businesses and venues can then scan a QR code in order to ensure the attendee meets any COVID-19 vaccination or testing requirements for entry. Along with the health pass, users are also asked to show a photo ID with their name and birthdate to verify that the pass belongs to them. This information is only used to validate COVID-19 vaccination or test results; event organizers are not able to access any other health information through the platform, Piscini assured.

Plus, he said that IBM is able to customize the Digital Health Pass platform to fit the needs of a specific event or organization and that it can be integrated into an event app.

Health Passes in Action

At Bar Convent Brooklyn (BCB), a trade show for bar and beverage industry professionals that took place in mid-August at the Brooklyn EXPO Center, event producers ReedPop required attendees to bring their vaccination cards with them or show proof of vaccination via the Excelsior Pass, said Kyle Marsden-Kish, Global Gaming Event Director for ReedPop.

And at the upcoming PAX West event, a consumer gaming show, Marsden-Kish said that attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination, including via digital health passes such as Health Pass by CLEAR, or proof of a negative antigen or PCR COVID-19 test in order to enter the show. For unvaccinated attendees, antigen COVID-19 tests must be taken within six hours of the event’s start time each day, and PCR COVID-19 tests must be taken within 72 hours of each day of entry to the event.

These requirements are a step up from the initial mask mandate that the producers had planned; attendees are still required to wear an approved face covering while attending the event, in addition to the vaccination and testing requirements. Plus, vaccinated attendees will receive a color-coded wristband with a barrel lock.

In the event of an outbreak, Marsden-Kish said that producers are able to utilize contact tracing through the RFID wristbands, which will enable organizers to notify attendees who might have been exposed.

When it comes to implementing a vaccination mandate for events, planners need to “know your audience,” said Marsden-Kish, who added that he checks the COVID-19 case status in his area daily. “Do all you can, the best you can, because you are in charge, as an event planner, of that community, of your attendees, and of the back-of-house staff … You need a 360 bubble.”

Listen to the entire conversation here. For additional strategies to prepare on-site event staff to handle new protocols, like checking for vaccine credentials, check out our three-hour micro-course, Pandemic On-Site Protocol Training.