New York Governor’s Press Office via AP
Vaccine “passports” are making headlines and prompting emergency action from governors in a handful of states.
So what are these credentials, exactly, and what are they used for?
What is a vaccination passport?
It is proof that can be used to show that a person has been vaccinated. The same technology can be used to display a person’s coronavirus test results. It is a way of demonstrating a person’s state of health, usually through a smartphone app or a QR code that has been printed.
“It’s really not a passport to necessarily cross borders. It’s a certification. It provides information about your status in a certain field,” Dr. Zeke Emanuel, professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania and Former member of President Biden’s COVID -19 Transition Advisory Board, told NPR.
Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president of policy at Airlines for America, an airline trade group, puts it this way: “It’s really just scanning a little piece of paper with your vaccine information on it. “
The basic idea is that you would have a QR code, probably stored in a digital wallet, that indicates your immunization status. State health services, pharmacies and health systems have this information; your status would be verified with your identity and uploaded somehow, generating the QR code. The QR code would then be scanned by another application for input.
Why are vaccine passports controversial?
Some people worry about how their condition will be stored and used. There are also concerns about fairness: ensuring that people of all ages and from all walks of life have access to immunizations and those credentials. And some people don’t want to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, and they may bristle at the idea that their unvaccinated status could potentially block their access to certain places.
Like masks and vaccines, vaccine passports have become politicized.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis last week issued an executive order prohibiting companies from requiring customers to provide COVID-19 vaccination certification to enter or benefit from the service.
The order says that “passports for COVID-19 vaccines reduce individual freedom and will interfere with patient privacy” and that require passes for activities of “daily living” such as going to an event sportsman, restaurant or cinema “would create two classes of citizens on the basis of vaccinations.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott this week issued an executive order prohibiting state agencies from creating a vaccination passport requirement or conditioning services on an individual’s vaccination status against COVID-19. Organizations receiving public funds are prohibited from requiring consumers to provide documents on immunization status in order to receive services or be admitted.
Will the US government require Americans to have a vaccination passport?
The White House categorically says no.
“The government is not now, and neither will we support a system that requires Americans to wear accreditation,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week. “There will be no federal immunization database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination certificate.”
The government’s interest is to ensure that the privacy and rights of Americans are protected and that such systems are not used unfairly against people, Psaki said.
“There is a movement, as you know, in the private sector to identify ways to get back to events where there are large numbers of people safely in football stadiums or theaters. And that’s something that – that’s where the idea came from, and we expect that to be where it ends, ”she added.
Psaki said the federal government will soon be providing guidance, such as an FAQ, that answers people’s questions about privacy, security and discrimination.
What problem does a vaccination passport solve?
These credentials can be solutions to a few different issues, depending on the setting.
First, they can help get the company back to normal operations safely.
Emanuel, the bioethicist, says the passes may be a way to lift the substantial restrictions that are currently in place due to COVID-19.
“In public health, there is a principle according to which one should use the least restrictive method necessary”, he explains. “This [credential] allows us to say, “These people who have been vaccinated, you do not have to comply with certain restrictions because you are now immune. You are not likely to transmit or transmit the virus. ” “
New York State says its Excelsior Pass is “a tool to support the reopening of New York’s economy and accelerate the return to pre-pandemic activities” and “a free, fast and secure way to accept proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results to help meet state reopening guidelines. ”The pass is optional for individuals and businesses, and it may indicate vaccination status or status of PCR or antigen test.
For businesses like airlines that need to verify a country’s health requirements, digital passes are a huge time saver.
“The digitization of paper essentially allows airlines to process passengers faster,” says Pinkerton of Airlines For America. “What a scanned test or a health or vaccine certificate would allow us to do is that we can make this determination automatically without an officer having to touch a piece of paper, look at it, determine what “It is accurate and meets the requirements. So, it really is, in short, an automation and facilitation for passengers to speed up their journey through the airport.”
Where could they be used?
They will almost certainly be used for international travel, where many countries already have testing requirements for arriving passengers. But they could also be used at sporting events, cinemas, concert halls, work places and for domestic travel.
Why are they called passports if they are not just for international travel?
It is a problem. Actual passports are generally required for international travel. These credentials, on the other hand, are often optional and could be used much closer to you. Even for international travel, airlines say the new credentials are more akin to TSA Precheck or CLEAR – they’re an optional way to check in faster.
People who work to develop the new COVID-19 status credentials generally say “passport” is a wrong term, and say a better term is “digital credential” or “health credential.”
Where are these passes already used?
New York State has already launched its Excelsior Pass, which is optional and can be used by many businesses.
For travel, some of these passes are already in use to meet coronavirus testing requirements. CommonPass, created by a non-profit organization called The Commons Project, is used on all Lufthansa flights from Germany to the United States. JetBlue tries the CommonPass on flights between Boston and Aruba. United tested it for flights between Newark and London Heathrow.
American Airlines uses an app called VeriFLY on international flights to the United States and on flights from the United States to at least eight countries.
Is there a precedent for requiring vaccine credentials?
Yes. Schools and universities generally require proof of vaccination for students.
And for travel, these requirements are common. Many countries have long required that arriving travelers receive specific vaccinations.
There are other precedents where some type of credential is optional, but may allow faster entry, such as TSA Precheck, Global Entry, or CLEAR.
Will these passes actually be required in many places?
Due to politicization and other features of American life, adoption of these passes can be rare in places like restaurants, theaters, and concert halls.
Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told STAT that the passes represent a “slippery slope”.
“It’s not practical,” Benjamin said. “It’s a nation that doesn’t allow a national ID card. Getting compliance is going to be difficult, and I think it leads to politicization. I would like to avoid that.”
Audrey Fix Schaefer of the National Independent Venue Association, an organization of independent concert halls, expressed relief that there is no national requirement for such passes.
“We are grateful to learn that there will not be a mandatory audit program at the national level; independent bodies will make their own political decisions taking into account CDC guidelines and recommendations. That said, although vaccine verification is the hot topic, we have questions and concerns about the effectiveness of the verification implementation only at live events and not at other businesses where people come together, the financial implications for small businesses and equitable access and ethical issues surrounding these programs.