New York’s Vaccine Passport Program Could Cost Taxpayers Up to $17 Million

Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo attends the Tribeca Festival Welcome Lunch during the 2021 Tribeca Festival at Pier 76 on June 09, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival)
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival

New York State’s vaccine passport program could cost taxpayers up to $17 million, far above initial estimations.

This week, New York officials celebrated over 2 million Excelsior Passes issued in the state. The Excelsior Pass, an app developed in partnership with IBM which allows users to provide proof of vaccination, officially launched in March and has received sterling praise from the Democrat governor.

“New Yorkers have proven they can follow public health guidance to beat back COVID, and the innovative Excelsior Pass is another tool in our new toolbox to fight the virus while allowing more sectors of the economy to reopen safely and keeping personal information secure,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement announcing the launch of the vaccine passport:

 The question of ‘public health or the economy’ has always been a false choice — the answer must be both. As more New Yorkers get vaccinated each day and as key public health metrics continue to regularly reach their lowest rates in months, the first-in-the-nation Excelsior Pass heralds the next step in our thoughtful, science-based reopening.

The state originally identified the cost to develop the program as around $2.5 million, but that figure could be much higher, according to a Wednesday report from the New York Times, which obtained documents showing “that the state may have larger plans for the app”:

The state’s three-year contract with I.B.M. — obtained by an advocacy group and shared with The New York Times — to develop and run the pass establishes the groundwork for a future where at least 10 million people in the state would have an Excelsior Pass. It would provide them with a QR code that would not only verify their vaccination status but could also include other personal details like proof of age, driver’s license and other health records.
The total cost could end being as high as $17 million, much more than the $2.5 million the state had initially said it cost to develop the program.
The contract also requires I.B.M. to deliver to the state a “road map” to scale the digital health pass to 20 million individuals — the entire population of New York. The ambitious vision contrasts with the limited uses for the pass that the state has so far described to residents.

The contract reportedly estimates two-thirds of the state’s adult population will download the app by 2024. According to the outlet, the “optional implementation of a Phase 2 of the project” was not disclosed.

This week, Cuomo detailed additional perks and incentives for Excelsior Pass holders, such as exclusive access to the Empire State Building:

Meanwhile, other states, such as Florida, Alabama, and most recently, Texas, have taken action, prohibiting the use of vaccine passports.


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