While “vaccine passport” applications are spreading to other countries, in the United States, they remain a controversial issue regarding private rights and public health.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif .– While most people consider a “passport” to be a government-issued document, a “vaccination passport” would take paper confirmation that you have been immune to COVID and turn it into a record digital encryption on your mobile phone to check your immunization status.
As the economy continues to reopen, more and more businesses – from restaurants and bars to stadiums and concert halls to airlines and cruise lines – are determining whether and how to prove their customers are fully immunized.
Already, at least 17 companies are developing vaccine passport applications for use in the United States.
New York State now offers an option for residents called the “Excelsior Pass” and the UK is launching its own vaccination certificate this week. In Israel, where most of the economy has been reopened for months now, the “Green Pass” – its version of a vaccine passport – is required of residents to swing from hotels to gyms through concerts.
“Everything is sorted out on the phone,” said an Israeli woman, showing her Green Pass. “It’s very useful.”
And while some see the vaccine passport as a “ convenience, ” for others it is a source of controversy, leading to protests, such as a recent one in Orange County.
It is a contentious issue that has sparked a growing debate on private rights and public health.
“I think it should be a choice,” said one air traveler, while another said: “Personally, I think it’s good if we protect other people.”
“We have to show that we are vaccinated,” said another passenger.
But a woman speaking at an Orange County Supervisory Board meeting categorically objected.
“He shows me your papers before passing by!” she screamed. “It’s an electronic dog collar.”
“Vaccine passports or vaccine authentication will be the ‘masks’ of 2021,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, director of the UC San Francisco Department of Medicine.
He said he supported the concept of a vaccine passport within reason.
“I think it’s clearly legal; it’s ethical because people who aren’t vaccinated have made a choice,” Dr Wachter told New 8. “And no one is stopping them from not being vaccinated. “
Dr Wachter added that aside from children under the age of 12, only a tiny fraction of the population – less than 1% – is unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons.
“More than 99% of non-children can get vaccinated,” he said. “And if they don’t get it, they made the choice not to.”
Opponents of vaccine passports, however, argue that requiring some form of vaccine verification would deprive people of their right to choose.
“This is something that is totally incompatible with a free society in my opinion,” said Kevin Kiley, Assembly Member from California, who presented legislation that would prohibit the use of vaccine passports by any government entity of the state.
“I think this is a fundamental issue of privacy and personal freedom,” Kiley told News 8. “You shouldn’t be forced to confiscate your personal health information just for your day-to-day activities.”
As it stands at the federal and state levels, the government is not expected to impose a passport system for vaccines, leaving individual companies to decide.
This is a position that San Diego has taken as well.
“In terms of an official county-issued vaccine passport, this is not something we will pursue,” said San Diego County Supervisory Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher.
For Assembly Member Kiley, however, the prospect that the business sector needs a vaccination passport amounts to discrimination.
“Saying you show your papers and you can go, whereas if you don’t show your papers then you have to go,” he said. “You are not allowed to mingle with each other, you are not allowed to be in the same space, even though you are both fine with it. I think that’s not what we are as a state and as a country. “
Dr Wachter took a different position.
“In the case of infectious diseases, we don’t bless as a society the idea that ‘it’s your body and you can do whatever you want for yourself’,” said Dr Wachter. “There are some areas where we need the vaccination because a decision someone makes about their vaccination actually impacts the whole community.”
While the Biden administration has said it will not mandate the use of vaccine passports, which should be free, it will provide guidelines for companies currently developing vaccine passport applications, focusing on issues such as as accessibility and confidentiality.
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