POST 150. April 12, 2021. CORONAVIRUS. “The use of so-called COVID-19 “vaccine passports” is quickly becoming a divisive issue across the US – with several states, including New York, embracing the idea, while others have already moved to ban them.”

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“With millions of Americans being vaccinated against Covid-19 every day, a heated debate is underway — do these people need proof of immunization in the form of a vaccine passport?

Just like a national passport, a vaccine passport could allow the bearer entrance to a venue, like a crowded concert, or a foreign country that demands proof of vaccination in addition to a visa and valid national passport.

Vaccination cards from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aren’t quite the same as a vaccine passport. Though they are a record of what vaccine a person got and when, they can easily be forged.

A vaccine passport is just proof that a person has been immunized against Covid-19. It could be in the form of a smartphone app or a written certificate, for those who don’t have smartphones.

Some health experts argue that such proof of vaccination can be the ticket back to normalcy. It could reward people for getting vaccinated by allowing them into a crowded concert or ballgame, and offer them peace of mind that the person next to them has been immunized, too — thus helping to make crowded places safer….

But critics point to privacy concerns and overreach by authorities…” (A)

“What are the Downsides?

It’s already been established that more research into coronavirus vaccination and transmission is needed, but experts believe equity could be an additional concern with vaccine passports.

“It is hard to imagine how vaccine passports could be put into place in a way that would make travel safer around the world in an equitable manner,” Mercedes Carnethon, vice chairwoman of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, says in an email.

While the U.S. has administered over 143 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, dozens of countries have yet to administer a single shot.

Should a coronavirus vaccine passport be put into place for international travel, it would clearly put countries that have less access to vaccines at a disadvantage.

WHO’s stance is that “national authorities and conveyance operators should not introduce requirements of proof of COVID-19 vaccination for international travel as a condition for departure or entry, given that there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission.” It added that “preferential vaccination of travellers could result in inadequate supplies of vaccines for priority populations considered at high risk of severe COVID-19 disease.”

There are also privacy concerns to consider, as people may not be willing to share their health data with companies.

“There’s always going to be hesitancy, whether it’s about getting the vaccine or giving information about their status,” Raymond says.

And it’s unclear how much interest U.S. citizens would have in such a system, given that people already seem to be willing to travel within the country regardless of their vaccination status. Young spring breakers have taken to Florida beaches, prompting officials to label the developments “warning signs” of a potential backslide in progress against the coronavirus.

In a country where the pandemic has demonstrated drastic political divides over coronavirus mitigation strategies, a vaccine passport system could be a hard sell.

“Our country has not shown a united front to date when it comes to [COVID-19] mitigation strategies, unlike countries in Europe, Asia and famously New Zealand who have gone through a series of rolling nationwide lockdowns as needed,” Carnethon says. “It seems that requiring visitors to the U.S. to show vaccine passports would be challenging to receive bipartisan support to put into place.” “(B)

“The World Health Organization (WHO) does not back the use of coronavirus vaccine passports for travel, a spokesperson said.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said the world health agency does not back the use of these passports — proof that one has been vaccinated against COVID-19 — because it is not yet known if those who have been vaccinated against the virus can still transmit it. She cited equity concerns as another reason the WHO does not endorse the use of them at this time.

“We as WHO are saying at this stage we would not like to see the vaccination passport as a requirement for entry or exit because we are not certain at this stage that the vaccine prevents transmission,” Harris said during a United Nations news briefing, per Reuters.

In the U.S., the issue of vaccine passports has largely become partisan, with Republican lawmakers mostly against the concept.

“There are all those other questions, apart from the question of discrimination against the people who are not able to have the vaccine for one reason or another,” she added.

The news comes after the nation’s top infectious disease expert also spoke to vaccine passports, saying that the federal government won’t be mandating them for travelers or businesses after the pandemic is over.

“I doubt that the federal government will be the main mover of a vaccine passport concept,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, who also serves as President Biden’s chief medical adviser, told the Politico Dispatch podcast on Monday.

“They may be involved in making sure things are done fairly and equitably, but I doubt if the federal government is going to be the leading element of that,” he added.

Some argue that mandating vaccine passports could speed the re-opening of international travel. But the issue of vaccine passports is complicated and has been hotly debated around the world, with questions largely around how much governments, employers and venues have a right to know about a person’s vaccination status.” (C)

“The use of so-called COVID-19 “vaccine passports” is quickly becoming a divisive issue across the US – with several states, including New York, embracing the idea, while others have already moved to ban them.

Last month, New York became the first state in the nation to formally launch a digital vaccine passport for Empire State residents to verify that they’ve been immunized against the coronavirus.

The state’s program, dubbed the “Excelsior Pass,” allows New Yorkers to prove their vaccination status, or a recent negative COVID-19 test, in order to gain entry to events and businesses.

Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden and the Times Union Center in Albany have already begun using the app. Smaller arts, entertainment and event venues are also expected to utilize the pass, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office has said…

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker has also said that he supports passports, but added that they should not be required to enter an event or facility.

“As long as it is your choice,” Pritzker told reporters, according to Patch.com. “If people ask you to show that for a particular venue or private venue, they have the ability and right to do that. You don’t have to show that to them. You don’t have to be to go to that venue or be engaged in that activity.”

Meanwhile, leaders in a slew of states — including Florida, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri and Nebraska — have already expressed fierce opposition to any use of vaccine passports within their borders.

On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting state agencies or organizations that receive state funds from requiring COVID-19 vaccine passports.

“Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives. That is why I have issued an Executive Order that prohibits government-mandated vaccine passports in Texas,” Abbott said in a statement. “We will continue to vaccinate more Texans and protect public health — and we will do so without treading on Texans’ personal freedoms.”

“It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society,” DeSantis has said.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said he was opposed to “state-mandated” vaccine passports on Tuesday.

“I do not and will not support any kind of state-mandated vaccine passport. While the development of multiple safe, highly effective COVID-19 vaccines has been a scientific miracle, the decision to receive the vaccine should be left up to each individual,” Kemp said on Twitter….

The Biden administration has said that it is working to create a set of standards for the many private companies making their own versions of passports — but will not make or require its own federal version.

“The government is not now, nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday.” (D)

“Cathay Pacific airlines, convinced that digital proof of coronavirus vaccination will bring about the return of safe international travel, asked its pilots and crew to try out a new mobile app that showed their vaccination status on a recent flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles…

And Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, is offering electronic verification apps to patients vaccinated in its stores so they “can easily access their vaccine status as needed,” the company says.

Around the country, businesses, schools and politicians are considering “vaccine passports” — digital proof of vaccination against the coronavirus — as a path to reviving the economy and getting Americans back to work and play. Businesses especially fear that too many customers will stay away unless they can be assured that the other patrons have been inoculated.

But the idea is raising charged legal and ethical questions: Can businesses require employees or customers to provide proof — digital or otherwise — that they have been vaccinated when the coronavirus vaccine is ostensibly voluntary?

Can schools require that students prove they have been injected with what is still officially an experimental prophylaxis the same way they require long-approved vaccines for measles and polio? And finally, can governments mandate vaccinations — or stand in the way of businesses or educational institutions that demand proof?

Legal experts say the answer to all of these questions is generally yes, though in a society so divided, politicians are already girding for a fight. Government entities like school boards and the Army can require vaccinations for entry, service and travel — practices that flow from a 1905 Supreme Court ruling that said states could require residents to be vaccinated against smallpox or pay a fine.

“A community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members,” Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the 1905 case.

Private companies, moreover, are free to refuse to employ or do business with whomever they want, subject to only a few exceptions, ones that do not include vaccination status. And states can probably override that freedom by enacting a law barring discrimination based on vaccination status…

One arm of the government has offered some help: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has told employers that they can mandate coronavirus vaccination because public health comes first. If an employee cannot get vaccinated because of a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, and the company cannot make an accommodation, the agency said, “then it would be lawful for the employer to exclude the employee from the workplace.”  (E)

“A southbound passenger train halted in southern Quebec near the Vermont border, where an elderly, bespectacled man boarded the train. This man, a physician named Dr. Hamilton, worked his way down the aisles, asking each passenger, “Been vaccinated?” Unless they had documentation proving that they had been, Hamilton asked them to display their arms, where he looked for a “fresh scar” indicating a recent inoculation. If he could find no scar, a local paper informed readers, he either vaccinated the passenger on the spot or asked them to leave the train before it entered the United States.

The year was 1885. U.S. border officials in the late 19th century did not expect travelers to carry the identification documents that international transit requires today—but they did often require passengers to provide evidence that they had been vaccinated from smallpox. Whether at ports of entry including New York’s Ellis Island and San Francisco’s Angel Island, or along the U.S. border with Canada or Mexico, officials expected border-crossers to prove their immunity. As an El Paso newspaper put it in 1910, travelers needed to show one of three things: “A vaccination certificate, a properly scarred arm, or a pitted face” indicating that they had survived smallpox.” (F)

““They’re coming whether we like it or not,” said Dr. Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, referring to programs that verify a person’s vaccination status. But he said the conversations policymakers and private businesses have right now could help depoliticize this public health tool and maintain public trust.

What is the precedent?

For centuries, yellow fever haunted the world’s port cities. The highly infectious mosquito-borne disease spread easily and often was deadly, especially in warmer climates, sickening an estimated 200,000 and killing 30,000 people each year among unvaccinated populations, according to the CDC. To this day, there is no cure for yellow fever.

But in 1937, virologist and physician Max Theiler developed an effective vaccine to thwart the disease. Two decades later, the World Health Organization issued the International Certification for Vaccination or Prophylaxis, a yellow-colored paper also known as a Yellow Card. These certificates served as proof that the bearer had been vaccinated and did not pose a risk of carrying yellow fever or causing a potential outbreak. It remains a standard document for U.S.

Unlike the physical Yellow Cards, there are growing concerns about data privacy as documents.. verifying COVID-19 vaccination would exist and generally be accessed digitally. These digital health records would operate outside of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA, which protects people’s private medical information from being disclosed by health care providers, health plans, or businesses. And there are instances when HIPAA allows that information to be released, such as when it is in the public interest. More broadly, some people are concerned that their data could be used against them by law enforcement, accessed by hackers or sold to third-party vendors if regulators fail to offer appropriate oversight.”  (G)

“On Etsy, eBay, Facebook and Twitter, little rectangular slips of paper started showing up for sale in late January. Printed on card stock, they measured 3 by 4 inches and featured crisp black lettering. Sellers listed them for $20 to $60 each, with a discount on bundles of three or more. Laminated ones cost extra.

All were forgeries or falsified copies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination cards, which are given to people who have been inoculated against Covid-19 in the United States.

“We found hundreds of online stores selling the cards, potentially thousands were sold,” said Saoud Khalifah, the founder of Fakespot, which offers tools to detect fake listings and reviews online.

The coronavirus has made opportunists out of many people, like those who hoarded bottles of hand sanitizer at the start of the pandemic or those who cheated recipients out of their stimulus checks. Now online scammers have latched on to the latest profit-making initiative: the little white cards that provide proof of shots.

Online stores offering counterfeit or stolen vaccine cards have mushroomed in recent weeks, Mr. Khalifah said. The efforts are far from hidden, with Facebook pages named “vax-cards” and eBay listings with “blank vaccine cards” openly hawking the items.

Selling fake vaccination cards could break federal laws that forbid copying the C.D.C. logo, legal experts said. If the cards were stolen and filled out with false numbers and dates, they could also violate identity theft laws, they said….

The C.D.C. said it was “aware of cases of fraud regarding counterfeit Covid-19 vaccine cards.” It asked people not to share images of their personal information or vaccine cards on social media.”  (H)

“Many technology and health care entities have banded together as the Vaccine Credential Initiative, to develop a broadly agreed-upon set of open standards, meaning that the software underlying a verification system is transparent and it can adapt easily to other systems, while safeguarding privacy. The W.H.O. has a similar initiative, the Smart Vaccination Certificate.

But several companies are creating closed, proprietary systems that they hope to sell to clients, and some apparently would have access to users’ information.

One concern is that a profusion of systems might not be compatible, defeating the purpose of making it easy to check someone’s status.

Another objection is that any requirement to prove vaccination status would discriminate against those who can’t get the shot or refuse to, and there is lingering uncertainty about how well inoculation prevents virus transmission.

For those reasons, the W.H.O. said this week that it does not support requiring proof of vaccination for travel — for now.” (I)

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