‘Vaccine passports’ that show you’re inoculated are on the way

‘Vaccine passports’ that show you’re inoculated are on the way
A Department of Health and Human Services employee holds a COVID-19 vaccine record card at Operation Warp Speed headquarters in Washington, D.C., Nov. 13, 2020. The cards will be sent out as part of vaccination kits from Operation Warp Speed. (Source: U.S. Department of Defense)

WASHINGTON — More than 70 million Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — and along with that shot, a small paper card with the CDC’s label detailing the timing and manufacturer of the dose.

Those paper cards at the moment are the only proof readily available to Americans of their vaccination against a virus that has upended businesses, schools and most other aspects of daily life.

That could soon change, with multiple companies and nonprofit groups working to create “vaccine passports” — smartphone-based apps that would allow someone to certify that they’ve been vaccinated. The apps so far are aimed at travelers, who may be required to show proof of their vaccination status before boarding a plane or entering another country.

But concerns about broader vaccine requirements that could emerge have spurred Republicans in several states, including Montana and Iowa, to introduce legislation to ban discrimination based on vaccination status for employment or enrollment in schools. Opponents have argued that the measures, some supported by anti-vaccination groups, could be harmful to public health.

One GOP measure in Michigan would prohibit employers from requiring employees to wear face masks if they decline to be vaccinated, according to the Michigan Advance.

So far, the federal government’s public focus primarily has been on boosting vaccine supplies and vaccinations. One of President Joe Biden’s initial executive orders hints at the prospect of vaccine passports, directing government agencies to “assess the feasibility” of adding COVID-19 vaccination records to international immunization cards, and have them digitized.

In order to function, the apps being developed would need a reliable data source detailing who has been vaccinated, or a way to verify any data uploaded by users. So far, it’s not clear how exactly that would work.

Asked Monday about any federal discussions around creating a vaccine passport, Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser on Biden’s COVID-19 task force, responded that the administration has “a couple of core beliefs” about the idea of creating vaccine passports, including that “it’s not the role of the government to hold that data and to do that.”

Slavitt noted the private-sector efforts underway and added that the administration believes there is a “right way” for running such a system.

“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,” Slavitt said.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.