Last month I wrote that the Biden administration was pushing forward a project for vaccine passports. Many readers said – but wait, they say they will not mandate vaccine passports so nothing to see here.
That was wrong. The U.S. federal government isn’t going to require vaccine passports for citizens, nor are citizens going to be required to get vaccinated (though failing to require vaccination in exchange for $1400 stimmy checks was a huge lost opportunity in the fight against the pandemic).
However the Biden administration is working on standards to allow for vaccine passports, and has been in talks with airlines about creating them. The White House says it will offer its guidance for moving forward “soon.”
The key question, airline and travel industry officials say, is whether the U.S. government will set standards or guidelines to assure foreign governments that data in U.S. traveler digital passports is accurate. There are thousands of different U.S. entities giving COVID-19 vaccines, including drugstores, hospitals and mass vaccination sites.
Airline officials say privately that even if the United States does not mandate a COVID-19 digital record, other countries may require it or require all air passengers to be vaccinated.
The governors of Texas and Florida have ostensibly ‘banned vaccine passports’ but really they’ve just instructed state agencies not to require them.
Employers can probably require vaccination even though vaccines remain under Emergency Use Authorization (Pfizer is preparing to file for full authorization).
Beyond that, ‘proof of vaccination’ is something that will be used primarily for international travel. Many countries will require showing Covid-19 vaccination to enter (or to avoid testing and quarantine regimes). Hawaii might as well. But CDC vaccination cards don’t provide verifiable proof. You can print one off the internet on cardstock and fill it in yourself.
Currently data on who has been vaccinated is messy and resides separately with each state. And numerous questions need to be answered, such as:
- What vaccines count? If someone received their shot abroad, with a vaccine not approved by the DA, does that count?
- How many doses count? The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines seem about as effective after the first dose as the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine
- How long as the passports valid? We don’t know how long protective immunity lasts yet, since we haven’t followed patients long enough to know. Yet there’s no regime in place for booster shots yet either.
Iceland is accepting CDC cards from U.S. visitors, some other countries do so far as well, but since they’re easy to forge many may not.
These are only necessary on a temporary basis, until there’s enough vaccine for everyone. Activities in the U.S. really won’t need such proof, since everyone of eligible age will be able to get one before these standards are likely out and implemented. That means fewer people will have an incentive to fake vaccination, and the risk of being around unvaccinated people is lower – enough people vaccinated and there will be far fewer cases and health care systems won’t get overwhelmed.
But in places where vaccination is proceeding more slowly, and where entire populations remain vulnerable (as in Australia for instance), there will be real concern about allowing people in who haven’t been vaccinated – especially since data so far supports the idea that vaccination drastically reduces spread of the virus.
As a result, vaccine passports increase freedom to travel, allowing travel that is otherwise completely shut down. By contrast if they were being used for restaurant dining domestically, they’d be taking options away from people that they have today.