Volunteers create digital tool to help Ontarians show proof of vaccination much faster
Province not expected to release its own app and QR code system until Oct. 22
There's a quicker way to present a digital proof of vaccination to venues in Ontario, but it's coming from a group of citizen volunteers, not the province, which won't have its official app ready for use until next month.
In anticipation of Ontario's new vaccine passport, the group has created an immunization verification tool that allows users to upload their receipt from the Ministry of Health and convert it to an Apple wallet pass or photo for easy access.
They say it's a way to save time for both patrons and businesses when checking the certificates.
"It takes time to enforce the mandate; if we can help save even 10 seconds per person, you can make [doing business] a lot easier," said Billy Lo, one of the volunteers who developed the tool, which is available at grassroots.vaccine-ontario.ca.
Lo was also one of the volunteers working with Vaccine Hunters Canada, a non-profit that helps Canadians secure vaccine appointments.
Ontario's official QR code will be available on Oct. 22, and the volunteers say users will be able to update their Apple Wallet pass again when it comes out.
The initiative comes as the province's COVID-19 passport system launched on Wednesday, Sept. 22, with its own verification app and enhanced vaccination receipt with a QR code is expected on Oct. 22. In the interim, customers will have to show their receipt to get into many non-essential venues.
Those include restaurants, bars, sports venues, gyms, theatres, cinemas and casinos. Staff in those venues must ask patrons to show certification that they received two doses of an approved vaccine at least two weeks before, along with identification that matches their vaccination document.
Faster for businesses to check
Here's how it works: users can go to grassroots.vaccine-ontario.ca on their phone and upload their official vaccination receipt from the Ministry of Health.
After uploading, users are given the option of saving the QR code onto their digital Apple Wallet or save the QR code as a photo.
Once in the Apple Wallet or saved as a photo, businesses can scan the green QR code through their phone's camera, which then shows a prompt indicating the vaccination status has been verified.
It's an alternative to the province's current system which will requires showing a physical or digital copy of the ministry-issued vaccination receipt until Oct. 22.
"Simple colour coding will make things faster," Lo said.
Tool developed with privacy in mind
He said the QR code provides transparency compared to the current system. Vaccination receipts include a lot of personal and medical information, whereas their QR code uses a randomly generated 36-character token for verification.
Lo says the team has designed the tool for privacy protection; uploaded vaccination receipts are never sent to the internet, the software code is open to the public, and the QR code itself cannot identify the person if someone takes a photo of it.
Users can verify all this themselves, Lo added. They can view developer tools on the website through their browser, and the website also has a GitHub link that shows the "entire history of the evolution of the code," he said.
And scanning the QR code with a phone camera will reveal its website address, which shows a random 36-character long serial number instead of personal information like names or dates of birth.
The reception has been massive, Lo said. In the last few days, he said they went from 30,000 users to 485,000.
Meanwhile, the provincial government's in-house verifier app will only be for businesses when it comes onstream late next month, said Kaleed Rasheed, the associate minister for digital government. Customers will be given a QR code, and businesses will use the new app to scan the codes. The QR code is being developed by the Ministry of Health.
"I think it's very convenient, user-friendly, and the interface is great," Rasheed said. "I think businesses will like the product we're launching."
Rasheed said the province is on track to release the verifier app for Oct. 22. In developing the app, Rasheed said the ministry has received "really good feedback" from businesses with whom it has consulted.
"The verifier app will be downloadable from Google Play or the Apple Store," Rasheed said. "You scan a QR code, and it will provide a checkmark so that a person can enter the establishment, or an X that shows you're not fully vaccinated."
Regarding the grassroots vaccine verifier, Rasheed said his priority is to protect privacy, and he added the government's app will do just that.
The Ministry of Health reaffirmed Rasheed's statements, saying it "takes the privacy of Ontarians health data seriously." as it develops the QR code that will go live next month.
"In the meantime, Ontarians can download a secure watermarked certificate or use the receipt they were emailed or given at the time of vaccination," ministry spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene said in an email.
With files from Lorenda Reddekopp