America facing vaccine passport ‘mess’, experts warn

‘I think it’s going to be a tidal wave that’s going to be very difficult to stop’

Louise Hall
Thursday 15 April 2021 20:11
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Florida governor Ron de Santis to block vaccine passports

The complex issue of vaccine passports has been causing a stir across the US in recent weeks as the country grapples with how to safely re-open its economy amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

On a federal level, the Biden administration has confirmed that it will not enforce a "federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential” to provide proof of vaccination.

Statewide, certain government bodies have already taken steps to implement legislation that would prohibit such measures. Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order earlier this month banning the use of “vaccine passports”.

Experts are warning that the rollout of such vaccine certification could lead to a “mess” of a situation unless the administration lays out a clear plan to standardise the certification.

“I think it’s going to be a tidal wave that’s going to be very difficult to stop, because there’s enormous economic and social incentive for proof of vaccinations,” Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown University, told Axios.

“Unless they provide national scientific guidance and technical assistance, we’re going to see a patchwork of variable quality across the country,” he said. “And we’ve seen that movie before…you get a mess.”

Private companies have already begun planning ways to verify that their customers have been vaccinated with at least 17 groups and government agencies working on vaccine passport initiatives, The Washington Post reported.

"In general, private businesses can decide who they’re willing to admit into their businesses and serve so long as they don’t violate either the federal Civil Rights act or a state law," University of Pennsylvania professor Eric Feldman told Axios.

“Just like you can say no shirt no shoes no service, you can say no vaccine no service,” Mr Gostin said before adding that he believed the ban in Florida would likely lose if challenged in court.

Experts have expressed fears that such passports could deepen existing inequities, as vaccination rates among people of colour lag behind those of white people in the US.

A national debate has ensued on whether it should be required for people to receive a Covid-19 vaccine in order to travel, work at specific businesses, or attend schools.

Mr Feldman said, “there seems to be a pretty clear public health justification for trying to ensure that those who are gathering in places where an airborne transmissible virus that could lead to sickness or the death of others, that you want to take the necessary precautions.”

He added: "One precaution is to screen some people in and screen some people out."

This week, new polling by Morning Consult found that more than three in five Americans say that they would like a digital certification that they have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

On the other hand, only 46 per cent supported a requirement for vaccinated individuals to carry it with them while only 40 percent were in favour of allowing businesses to require proof of vaccine.

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