Vaccine passports: New details on how they would work

Coronavirus

(WJW/AP) — With three COVID-19 vaccines now being offered in the United States, it makes sense people are hoping to get back to “normal” as quickly as possible.

So the idea of a “vaccine passport,” which would allow people to prove their fully-vaccinated status in order to gain access to certain events or spaces, is understandably quite alluring. Some media outlets including the Washington Post and CNN earlier said President Joe Biden’s administration is working with federal agencies as well as private entities to create such a thing for Americans.

According to those reports, the passport would come as a scannable code that users could easily bring up on their smartphone. Printable paper copies would also be available to those without that technology.

The passports could be used to get people onto airplanes, into large concert venues and even to allow people back to work, multiple outlets said.

The White House on Monday gave new insight into the matter, ruling out the creation of a national “vaccine passport” for Americans to verify their immunization status, saying it is leaving it to the private sector to develop a system for people to show they’ve been vaccinated. Some other countries are establishing national databases to allow vaccinated people to resume normal activities.

“We do know that there is a segment of the population that is concerned that the government will play too heavy-handed of a role in monitoring their vaccinations,” said White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt. He said officials are worried that “it would discourage people” from getting vaccinated if the federal government was involved. Earlier Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki quashed told reporters that the Biden administration would not issue a federal mandate requiring a vaccine passport for all.

The administration, instead, is developing guidelines for such passports, touching on privacy, accuracy and equity, but the White House has not said when those guidelines will be ready.

New York state has also recently announced plans for an app called the Excelsior Pass, which would allow residents to provide a recent negative COVID-19 test and/or show they are are fully vaccinated.

However, as other countries consider similar apps, some experts are concerned that these types of passports not only impinge on privacy but also exclude certain groups of people from spaces — especially as some countries have yet to vaccinate any of their residents.

“These so-called passports claim they would ensure those who can prove they have coronavirus immunity can start to return to normal life,” U.K. civil liberties organization, Liberty, said in a statement last month. “Which raises the question — what happens to everyone else?”

The World Health Organization said in a press release last month that these sorts of passports should not be used for international travel.

“National authorities and conveyance operators should not introduce requirements of proof of COVID-19 vaccination for international travel as a condition for departure or entry, given that there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission,” WHO said.

Also Monday, Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis said he would issue an executive order that would forbid the use of vaccine passports in the state.

“It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply participate in normal society,” the governor said. “You want to go to a movie theater, should you have to show that? No.”

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