Baker exploring ‘important’ vaccine verification options

Administration talking with states about their experiences

BOSTON — It will be important for people to have a simple way to prove that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday as he stopped just short of saying that some kind of vaccination verification system will be coming to Massachusetts.

This would change how we go about our day-to-day lives in stores, restaurants, concerts, etc.

With about two-thirds of the workforce soon to be impacted by a federal vaccination-or-testing mandate, a growing number of venues requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result to enter, and with the market for phony vaccine cards exploding, some states like New York and Minnesota have launched free and voluntary platforms to provide digital and authentic proof that the user has either been vaccinated or has tested negative.

“We’ve been talking to the states that have developed this and it’s certainly something that,” Baker said, slamming on the brakes mid-sentence during an appearance on GBH Radio. “I mean, I just happen to think that getting to the point where there’s a relatively simple process for people to credential the fact that they’ve been vaccinated will be important for a whole bunch of reasons.”

The governor pointed out to co-hosts Margery Eagan and Jim Braude that people in Massachusetts can get vaccine verification or a credential from the provider who administered the vaccine.

“But obviously, there are states and municipalities that have done something more universal than that and we’ve been talking to those folks and working through how that would work here in the commonwealth,” the governor said.

Baker did not take the bait when Braude said that it sounded likely that Massachusetts is “going to have such a thing at some point.”

“I certainly think it’s going to be an important thing for people to have,” he said. “But again, you can validate and verify that you’ve been vaccinated right now.”

When President Joe Biden announced on Sept. 9 that the federal government will soon require companies with 100 or more workers to mandate that their employees either be vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing, it sent the illicit market for forged U.S. Centers for Disease Control vaccination cards soaring.

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The price of a fake vaccination card with a CDC logo jumped from $100 to $200 right after Biden’s announcement and the number of people in a group on the social messaging app Telegram dedicated to the forgeries rose from 30,000 to more than 300,000, according to Check Point Software Technologies. In August, there were about 1,000 vendors offering fake vaccination cards on Telegram, the company said, and now there are more than 10,000.

“The growth of the black market for fake vaccination cards has been exponential,” Ekram Ahmed, a spokesperson for the cybersecurity firm that studies the illicit market, told Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline publication. “Our expectation is that the black market for fake coronavirus vaccination cards will continue to thrive as more policy requiring vaccination proof gets rolled out.”

Former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, now U.S. secretary of labor, is overseeing the drafting of Biden’s mandate. Asked about the forthcoming federal policy Thursday, Baker said that he was hesitant to comment.

“I’m obviously a big fan of people getting vaccinated and I’m obviously comfortable with employers creating programming for their own people to get vaccinated ... But we have not seen yet any details on what this looks like,” he said. “At this point, it’s commenting on a press release and speech, and for something that is as significant, widespread and as complicated as this, I would really like to see how they think this would work, who qualifies, who doesn’t, what the rules are and all the rest.”

The governor was similarly non-committal when asked about the possibility of requiring vaccination for Massachusetts school students, though he suggested that having a vaccine secure final FDA approval for use in younger people could be a key factor in his thinking. In Los Angeles, district officials on Thursday voted unanimously in favor of a policy that requires eligible students (currently those 12 or older) to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Keep in mind that we don’t have any ability to vaccinate anybody who is under the age of 12 yet and there’s some discussion about when that might happen. We also won’t have, for kids under the age of 16, I think, a final approval on a vaccine at this point in time. Pfizer’s approved for, I think, for 16 and up as a final approval but we’re still working under emergency use authorizations below that. And Moderna doesn’t have a final approval at all, it’s still an emergency use authorization,” the governor said.

Baker added, “I think it’s important, when you don’t have sort of a final signoff from the feds, to be careful about how you think about this stuff.”

Asked directly whether he would consider mandating vaccines for students for whom final FDA approval has been granted, Baker said neither yes nor no.

“You know, I don’t know when those things are going to happen, Jim. So in the meantime, I’d rather just focus on trying to get more kids vaccinated in those communities with the rules and the standards and the processes and procedures that we have in place currently,” the governor said.

Some of the people Boston 25 News spoke with say a universal digital version would be helpful if you lose your card and to combat the rise in fake vaccination cards.

“They use them to travel and get other people infected, so they definitely should,” said Revere resident Juanita Hernandez.

“I definitely think there should be, it’s not really an inconvenience,” said Kencho Gurung, who was in Boston visiting. “I’m from Hawaii and they’re starting to do it there.”

But Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers CEO said to be careful because if this happens, what could come next.

“The whole data piece around collecting who has not gotten the vaccine opens the door to some potential abuses and again potentially the abuses by some who want to know who’s been vaccinated and by default who’s not,” said Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers Michael Curry, Esq.

Boston 25′s Wale Aliyu contributed to this report. Follow Wale on Facebook: WaleAliyuTV Twitter: @WaleAliyu or Instagram: WaleAliyuTV

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