Sioux Falls, S.D. (KELO) — The Biden administration announced Monday that it will not issue a federal mandate requiring individuals to obtain a single vaccination credential, otherwise described as a ‘vaccine passport,’ saying that it expects the private sector to take the lead on the verification of COVID-19 vaccines.
However, this announcement has done little to calm the ire of certain elected officials such as Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green (R), and Governor Kristi Noem, both of whom have continued tweeting their opposition in the days following the White House announcement. Rep. Greene has also referred to vaccination passports as “Biden’s Mark of the Beast,” an allusion to a passage from the biblical book of Revelation.
What are vaccine passports?
Vaccine passports are, according to a report from the BMJ, a weekly peer-reviewed medical trade journal, “accessible certificates confirming covid-19 vaccination linked to the identity of the holder.” The purpose of such certificates, they say, “is to allow people to travel, attend large gatherings, access public venues, and return to work without compromising personal safety and public health.”
Simply put, vaccine passports are a form of verification that an individual has been vaccinated, which could be used by government, private companies and event organizers to determine who can safely participate in certain activities, or travel to certain places.
Far from a foreign concept, this type of verification has been used in many places, such as public schools which require proof of vaccination for diseases such as polio and measles, and at Rutgers University, which announced in March that students wishing to return to campus will have to prove that they have been vaccinated.
Opposition and challenges:
Critics of these kinds of certificates point out the relative lack of understanding of how much protection the vaccines currently on the market offer from the virus. While the Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen vaccines have all shown success in preventing symptomatic reaction and death, a consensus has not been formed on how easily a vaccinated person can still spread the virus.
“We’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19. After you’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you should keep taking precautions in public places like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces until we know more.”Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
In a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers Mark Hall and David Studdert expand on this issue of the unknown, saying “the extent of protection conferred by vaccination, particularly against new variants, is not yet well understood, nor is the potential for viral transmission by people who have been vaccinated.”
Hall and Studdert also lay out of the ethical issues that have been raised as well, saying “while vaccine supply remains limited, privileging people who are fortunate enough to have gained early access is morally questionable.”
The pair continues addressing issues of equity, stating that even after supply issues are resolved “rates of vaccination among racial minorities and low-income populations seem likely to remain disproportionately low.” Lastly, they two bring up the issue of religious exemptions to vaccination, pointing out that “privileging the vaccinated will penalize people with religious or philosophical objections to vaccination.”
Beyond medical and ethical issues, questions of logistical challenges also exist. Hall and Studdert touch on this, stating that one obstacle to vaccine passports is the lack of “a consensus approach to accurately certifying vaccination.”
A panel of researchers led by Oxford Professors Melinda Mills and Chris Dye compiled a list of 12 issues that would need to be addressed before a potential vaccine passport could be introduced.
They determined that such certification would need to:
- Meet benchmarks for COVID-19 immunity.
- Accommodate differences between vaccines in their efficacy, and changes in vaccine efficacy against emerging variants.
- Be internationally standardized.
- Have verifiable credentials.
- Have defined uses.
- Be based on a platform of interoperable technologies.
- Be secure for personal data.
- Be portable.
- Be affordable to individuals and governments.
- Meet legal standards.
- Meet ethical standards.
- Have conditions of use that are understood and accepted by the passport holders.
Support for vaccine passports:
While much of the academic opposition to vaccine passports revolves around issues of equity and implementation, the BMJ report reiterates that these types of certifications already exist, and that they can serve as an incentive for vaccination.
“The World Health Organization endorses certificates confirming vaccination against yellow fever for entry into certain countries. Contrary to immunity passports, which may, perversely, incentivize infection, vaccine passports incentivize vaccination, an international public good with many positive benefits including individual and population immunity.”The BMJ
The report also emphasizes the role of vaccination in opening up society to more opportunities, and pushes back on ideological opposition that claims vaccine passports restrict people’s liberty.
“While lockdowns may be required, the continued restriction of the civil liberties of those who are immune and pose minimal risk of spreading infection may be unethical, as lack of freedom of movement is one of the most common adverse impacts of the pandemic on people’s lives. Additionally, vaccine passports could help prevent other health and socioeconomic harms caused by lockdowns, thereby accruing individual and collective health, economic, and social benefits.”The BMJ
Real world implementation:
In examining how the process how vaccine passport certifications for COVID-19 would actually look, there are real world examples. As previously mentioned, in an example of a public institution taking action, Rutgers University is requiring on-campus students to provide proof of vaccination, though exemptions can be requested.
“Students may request an exemption from vaccination for medical or religious reasons. Students enrolled in fully remote online degree programs and individuals participating in online-only continuing education programs will not be required to be vaccinated”Statement from Rutgers University
In an example of a private company implementing vaccination requirements is Virgin Voyages, an adult-only cruise line. It is requiring all passengers on future voyages to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
An example of governments enacting vaccine passport policies is Iceland, which began a new policy April 1. Under this policy, unvaccinated adults must present a negative PCR test, quarantine for five days, then test negative once again. Adults presenting certificates of vaccination with a vaccine authorized by the European Medicines Agency will not need to quarantine.
Another example of a government utilizing a vaccine passport, this time mentioned by Hall and Studdert, is Israel.
“Israel, which leads the world in per capita vaccination, is already issuing “green passes” to vaccinated residents. Although travel eligibility has been the primary focus to date, some use of passports to regulate access to social and recreational gatherings, workplaces, or schools appears imminent; Israel’s green passes, for instance, permit entry to otherwise restricted sites such as hotels, gyms, restaurants, theaters, and music venues.”The New England Journal of Medicine
KELOLAND News reached out to the South Dakota Department of Tourism for comment, but were told by a representative that at this time there is “too much speculation and hypotheticals” surrounding the issue for them to speak on it. We also reached out to a local travel agency, which also declined to provide comment.