The Biden administration is reportedly trying to orchestrate some kind of federal standardization for a primarily digital COVID-19 vaccine passport to reopen the economy against the backdrop of 17 public- or private-sector initiatives already underway.
“Those initiatives…are rapidly moving forward, even as the White House deliberates about how best to track the shots and avoid the perception of a government mandate to be vaccinated,” The Washington Post reported in an article headlined “‘Vaccine passports’ are on the way, but developing them won’t be easy.”
A Biden administration official at a health IT roundtable earlier this month expressed a preference for the term vaccine “credential” or “certificate” to provide separation from the government, although in practice, it remains to be seen if the absence of a government mandate makes a difference if such a document is required to navigate through everyday society.
A government program would be subject to a constitutional challenge from privacy and civil liberty advocates, however.
“Our role is to help ensure that any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy,” White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients has previously said.
In a series of slides obtained by the Post from a meeting of the Federal Health IT Coordinating Council earlier this month, the government among other things implied that a passport of some kind is key to a return to a broad range of what might be considered normalcy. “Proof of vaccination for certain activities is not new. What is new is that such proof may be a critical driver for restoring baseline population health and promoting safe return to social, commercial, and leisure activities.”
While conceding that vaccinations and credentials are a matter of individual choice, a slide indicates that “current trends suggest that vaccine credentials could nevertheless become a market-imposed de facto requirement for an individual’s return to day-to-day activities,” thus requiring a unified federal role because the government “has a strong interest in how this plays out.”
Common sense would suggest where this is going.
“The passports are expected to be free and available through applications for smartphones, which could display a scannable code similar to an airline boarding pass. Americans without smartphone access should be able to print out the passports, developers have said,” the Post noted.
Proponents would have to address updated record keeping, data privacy and security, and fake credentialing, among other challenges. “Taking time to get the credentialing project right ‘is very, very important because this has a high likelihood of being either built wrong, used wrong or a bureaucratic mess,’ said one official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the effort,” the Post observed in an apparent understatement.
For some, this scenario might be evocative of the failed rollout of the Obamacare website.
The World Health Organization, the European Union, and various countries, along with the airline industry, have vaccine passports in the works as the summer travel season approaches. Israel already has a Green Pass.
New York has implemented a pilot Excelsior Pass as a condition of entering certain entertainment venues.
Walmart has announced that it is making available a digital immunity record for those who have received the COVID-19 vaccination at their retail stores or at the company-owned Sam’s Club warehouse outlets.
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) March 24, 2021
“If it becomes a government mandate, it would go down a dark road very quickly,” according to Brian C. Castrucci of the public health group Beaumont Foundation. “It becomes a credential. It becomes a ‘needing your papers,’ if you will. That could be dangerous — and it could turn off people.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has already declared that there will be no mandated COVID-19 vaccine passports in his state. He also expressed disapproval about private companies requiring proof of vaccination.
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) March 22, 2021
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