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Commentary: California Shares Code on Digital Vaccine Records

“If a state is interested in offering a service similar to what we launched in California, they can take our code, connect it to their own back end, and generate digital vaccine records for their residents,” writes Rick Klau, California's chief technology innovation officer.

This article first appeared on the California Department of Technology’s Tech Blog.

Soon after we launched the Digital Vaccine Record portal in June, our friends at the Colorado Digital Service asked if we’d be willing to share our code with other states. Shortly after that, several other states reached out with similar requests. I’m excited to share that my office has released the code for both the front end and the middle tier for California’s Digital Vaccine Record to the public domain on GitHub. Any other state that is interested in deploying a digital vaccine record system should be able to use our free code to connect their own immunization registry back end and launch a similar portal to California’s.

In June, California and Louisiana were the only two states supporting the SMART Health Cards framework. New York delivered an upgrade to its Excelsior Pass in July that gave every vaccinated New York resident access to a SMART Health Card, and Hawaii announced recently that it is now issuing SMART Health Cards for vaccinated Hawaiians. In addition, anyone vaccinated at a CVS pharmacy, a Walmart or Sam’s Club Pharmacy, or any health system that uses Epic or Cerner as their electronic health record system now has access to a SMART Health Card.

As more states implement a system similar to what is available in California, Louisiana, New York and Hawaii, a growing number of Americans will have access to a digital vaccination record that can be used anywhere digital records are issued and accepted. This is convenient for residents and tourists who no longer need to carry their CDC card. It also standardizes the process for businesses and employers who want to verify vaccination records.

As we shared previously, California’s Digital Vaccine Record is an implementation of the SMART Health Card framework, also built on an open source framework. The code we’re releasing now is everything we built to provide a front-end form that lets California residents submit a request for their digital vaccine record, and a middle tier that passes those queries to the back end (in our case, a Snowflake instance). If there’s a match, the middle tier returns a SMART Health Card-formatted QR code, along with the individual’s name and vaccination information.

Every state in the United States operates its own immunization registry. If a state is interested in offering a service similar to what we launched in California, they can take our code, connect it to their own back end, and generate digital vaccine records for their residents. This won’t be plug-and-play, exactly – it will still require some work to make the connection between the middle tier and the state’s back end – but we hope it will save states some time.

Find linked the repositories for the UI, the middle-tier API and the QR code generation. Each repository has a “readme” file that should provide sufficient info to get started; once the immunization registry back end (or a snapshot of that database in a separate back end for the purpose of serving digital vaccine record requests) delivers a JSON payload to the API, a state should be able to deliver digital vaccination records to residents requesting them.

Keep in touch! We’re happy to answer any questions other states may have as they explore deploying this in their own environments. Hit us up on Twitter at @CADeptTech or submit an issue on GitHub.
State Chief Technology Innovation Officer Rick Klau joined the California Department of Technology in February after serving as senior operating partner for Google Ventures from 2011 to 2020. Before that, he held executive positions with a number of firms in the private sector. Klau received his juris doctorate from the University of Richmond School of Law.