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Excelsior Pass vs. Key to NYC Pass: What's the difference?

Aug. 12, 2021
4 min read
View from The High Line in New York City
Excelsior Pass vs. Key to NYC Pass: What's the difference?
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New York City announced on Aug. 3 that it would require proof of coronavirus vaccination to dine indoors at restaurants and participate in other indoor activities.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the purpose of the city's vaccination requirement was to encourage people to get immunized. The city on Aug. 3 recorded nearly 1,600 new positive cases as the delta variant continues to surge. The variant, first discovered in India, is believed to be more transmissible. Sixty-six percent of New York City adults have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to city data.

The city is instituting a vaccine mandate for indoor activities such as restaurants, gyms, bars and theaters, and people attending these venues will be required to have at least one dose. The vaccination requirement is expected to begin this month.

"If you're vaccinated, all that's going to open up to you. You'll have the key. You can open the door. But if you're un-vaccinated, unfortunately, you will not be able to participate in many things," de Blasio said during a news conference on Aug. 3.

"If you want to participate in our society fully, you’ve got to get vaccinated," de Blasio continued.

The mayor said the mandate would be called the Key to NYC Pass -- which, despite the name, is not an app like the Excelsior Pass. If you're thinking, "wait, isn't that confusing?" you're right. While the Key to NYC Pass and Excelsior Pass at first glance seem similar, there are striking differences. Here's what we know.

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Key to NYC Pass

New York City Skyline (Photo by TomasSereda / Getty Images)

The term “vaccine passport” is used widely (and highly controversial), but it can be misleading. Though vaccine passports and proof of vaccination against COVID-19 may, at face value, appear to be pretty much the same thing, there are some notable differences between the two.

The "Key to NYC Pass" appears to be less of a platform and more of a policy requiring proof vaccination, not a vaccine passport.

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Vaccine passports are widely optional due to several factors, including smartphone access and privacy concerns.

To fulfill the "Key to NYC Pass" policy -- which applies to an establishment's workers and patrons -- people can show proof of vaccination, such as the physical paper card from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or a digital vaccine passport like the Excelsior app.

"The Key to NYC Pass -- this is an easy approach because to confirm vaccination, all you need is your vaccination card or the NYC COVID SAFE app, or the Excelsior app from the State – any of those will do," de Blasio said during the news conference. Right now, it's unclear if other vaccine passports, such as Clear’s Health Pass, are acceptable for the "Key to NYC Pass" program.

So, while using a digital vaccine passport, like Excelsior Pass, may be optional under the "Key to NYC Pass" policy, showing proof of vaccination is not.

Excelsior Pass

(Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Earlier this year, New York State partnered with IBM to create the Excelsior Pass, which can verify test or vaccination results. It has been used at sporting events at Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden. Like virtually every other vaccine passport, the use of the Excelsior Pass is optional.

Unlike the Key to NYC Pass, the Excelsior Pass is only available to people who received a test or were vaccinated in the state, or New York residents whose healthcare provider entered their immunization information into state and city databases. That means if you were vaccinated outside of New York State, you won't be able to use the pass. However, you don't have to be a New York resident to use it.

Many states and private sector businesses have developed their own vaccine passports that host verified test and vaccine information to streamline verification. The only universal way to prove COVID-19 vaccination status in the United States is the CDC vaccination card.

Featured image by (Photo by Nicole Kwiatkowski /
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