Since the development of viable COVID-19 vaccine candidates, many Americans have been concerned about the possibility that proof of inoculation will become mandatory for certain public activities.
As recent reports indicate, President Joe Biden is looking to the private sector to serve as an instrumental force in developing so-called vaccine passports that could ultimately determine who is permitted to return to work, travel, or attend certain events.
Efforts around the world
The Washington Post reported that multiple companies and organizations like the World Health Organization are already developing their own passports. A centralized and universally recognized system, however, would allow individuals to give out personal medical information to just one entity instead of potentially several.
As it stands, the Biden administration appears to be focused on sifting through various efforts already underway in hopes of developing a federal standard that would be widely used and adopted.
Reports show that the administration has encountered challenges in crafting a message in favor of vaccine passports while avoiding the perception that receiving a shot is mandatory. So far, vaccination remains a voluntary choice.
Only a small number of private organizations, like Rutgers University, have stated that they might make vaccination mandatory at some point in the future for those who work, attend, or visit them. Such requirements are notably different than a government mandate.
Multiple U.S. allies including Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom have launched their own vaccine passport programs. Domestically, New York has introduced its Excelsior Pass to allow individuals to show that they have been inoculated.
In a statement earlier this month, White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt stressed that standardizing vaccine data for public use is “not the role of the government.” He went on, however, to provide some guidelines regarding what such a program should include.
“We do believe that when that gets done, there is a right way and a way that’s not as good,” he said.
Among the features he recommended were that “it needs to be private, the data should be secure, the access to it should be free, it should be available both digitally and in paper, and in multiple languages, and it should be open source.”
These plans have attracted opposition on multiple fronts, including those concerned about medical privacy, coercion to be vaccinated, and discrimination against those who have not received their shots. Even as Biden strives for his goal of making the vaccine available to all adults by May, access in some communities could still lag behind the rest of the country and many Americans could face problems in attempting to take time off from work to obtain their dose or doses.
As U.K. civil rights group Liberty stated earlier this year: “These so-called passports claim they would ensure those who can prove they have coronavirus immunity can start to return to normal life. Which raises the question — what happens to everyone else?”