With no federal mandate to require a single vaccination credential, the private sector and local governments are filling the gaps
By Julie Wernau – The Wall Street Journal.
Vaccine passports are emerging as the latest polarizing issue in the Covid-19 pandemic, as policy makers debate whether Americans should have proof of inoculation to return to work, travel or attend events.
The Biden administration has said there will be no federal mandate to require a single vaccination credential, leaving the issue of whether to require evidence and how to police it to local governments and the private sector.
That has set up a patchwork of policy-making, with dozens of bills making their way through state legislatures across the country—mostly seeking to ban vaccination requirements—and governors taking opposing stands.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has said his administration is discussing the creation of a standardized record for people to show they have been vaccinated. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has said government agencies, private businesses and institutions that received state funding can’t require people to show proof that they have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced Excelsior Pass, a program that allows people to prove their vaccination or Covid-19 status via smartphone app or printout. Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order last month prohibiting businesses from requiring patrons or employees to provide documentation certifying Covid-19 vaccination. Those who don’t follow the rules would no longer be eligible for grants or contracts funded by the state, according to the order.
Those in favor of vaccine passports say it is the safest and quickest way to reopen economies, while detractors say they would impinge on individual rights and delay economic recoveries. The debate has spilled over into social media posts, calling the passports everything from un-American to an entry point to a two-tier society that would discriminate against the unvaccinated.
Some foreign countries, airlines, entertainment venues and other entities are discussing systems in which proof of vaccination will be the new standard for resuming once-ordinary activities.
Big U.S. airlines are generally against requiring vaccines for domestic or international travel. But some airline executives have said vaccine passports could help streamline global travel and they mainly want federal guidelines to ensure that any Covid-19 health certifications will be valid around the world and that they protect customer privacy.
Speaking at a March 31 aviation industry conference, Boeing Co. Chief Executive David Calhoun said he was open to the idea of a health passport.
“Coming to grips with what that standard looks like and getting enough representative countries to sign up, I think that’s the challenge,” he said.
For cruise line workers and travelers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended vaccinations but hasn’t said they should be required. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. said it would require passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before boarding a ship. Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Group will also require vaccinations for certain sailings abroad.
“This is a situation where the government isn’t taking a clear stance, the public is deeply divided and businesses don’t know what to do,” said Erica DeWald, advocacy director at Vaccinate Your Family, which promotes vaccination education and policy.
Absent a digital standard, the current evidence of vaccination—the paper cards handed out at vaccination sites—could be easy to fake. The CDC has designed a version, which many locations use, but it isn’t required. State and local authorities and even individual sites are coming up with their own cards.
A consortium of 46 of the country’s state attorneys general is calling on eBay Inc., Twitter Inc. and Shopify Inc. to take action to remove users attempting to sell fake vaccination cards online. The cards, which were initially sold only on less accessible parts of the internet, have started showing up for sale on mainstream websites, potentially allowing unvaccinated people to pose as vaccinated.