What's Wrong with Vaccine Passports?

July 19, 2021, 6:56 PM · Like millions of Los Angeles County residents who have been vaccinated fully against Covid-19, I now again need to wear a mask while inside offices, stores, theaters and other indoor destinations - including at Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain. The county reinstated its mask mandate because of rising infection rates, but there was another way to protect residents and visitors from the continued threat of Covid-19.

Covid is coming back across the United States, with rising cases rates in almost every state and a 66% rise in cases in the past week, according to the Washington Post. While California's seven-day-average new case rate pretty much matches the national average, four states - including Florida - have new case averages surging over 30 per 100,000 residents.

That gives community leaders one of three choices:

1. Do nothing. Everyone ages 12 and older has the opportunity to get vaccinated now. If you choose not to get vaccinated and end up getting Covid, that's on you. Why should communities restrict people who have chosen to protect themselves by getting vaccinated to help protect those who haven't?

The problem with this argument is that some people with immune systems problems cannot be vaccinated and remain at risk while Covid is spreading within their community. So it's not just the "guilty" getting sick. Kids ages 11 and under are not yet eligible for the vaccine, either. And while hospitalization and death rates among the young remain minuscule next to those for older patients, they do not stand at zero.

In addition, continued community spread of Covid allows the virus to continue to mutate. That creates the potential for new variants that might be able to break through vaccines' protection, leaving vaccinated people at greater risk for hospitalization and death.

Finally, the do-nothing approach is cruel. I don't care if you're the biggest anti-vaxxer in the country - no one deserves to suffer and die from this disease. Kind communities do what they can to protect those who cannot, or even will not, protect themselves.

2. Bring back masks and other preventive measures. The CDC policy has been that unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks, even if a community is not requiring vaccinated people to do that. But - as many of us predicted - the lifting of mask mandates led to unvaccinated people taking off their masks as well, clearing the way for a resurgence of Covid-19.

LA County is bringing back the mask mandate as a heavy-handed way of getting the unvaccinated masked up in public again. So far, no one seems to be talking about bringing back capacity restrictions for indoor restaurants and theaters where people eat while not wearing masks. But that could be the logical next step should case rates continue to rise. As a fully vaccinated person, I say... ugh.

3. Require proof of vaccination to avoid the rules in (2). Want to help slow the spread of Covid and reduce the risk of new variants while not restricting people who have been vaccinated? Here is your solution.

Treat vaccination as the ticket out of quarantine. Show proof of vaccination and you can go to bars, clubs, concerts, games, theaters, restaurants, and yes, theme parks. Show proof of vaccination and you can get on a plane to wherever you want. But if you choose not to get vaccinated, then it's back to the "stay at home" order for you. No clubs, restaurants, arenas, theaters, or theme parks for you. Go to the grocery or pharmacy only during special hours when everyone is required to wear masks and practice distancing. No shopping at the mall or eating out. It's delivery or nothing.

Trouble is, the United States has no ready-to-implement nationwide system to support so-called vaccine passports - just flimsy paper vaccine certificates that can be faked, not to mention easily lost or damaged. And what about kids? Should vaccinated parents have to remain in quarantine because their children can't get vaccines yet?

Requiring a recent negative Covid test in lieu of vaccination could provide a way out of that problem, and that is what France is doing with its recently announced Health Pass program. When France announced it was ditching the honor system and would require proof of vaccination to get into restaurants, malls, trains, and attractions, demand for vaccine appointments surged. (Want to visit Disneyland Paris? You will need that Health Pass.) Now Britain is doing the same for nightclubs and other popular venues in the hope of getting more young people vaccinated there.

No one would be forcing anyone to get a vaccine under a vaccine pass system. But the consequences of not getting vaccinated would fall solely upon those whose movement would be restricted instead of falling upon the entire community, as is now the case.

Of course, selfish people never want to take responsibility for anything, and many politicians have made a career in pandering to selfish people, so that is why we see so many of them railing against "vaccine passports." Yet those politicians know selfishness can be played to the public's advantage, too. I will bet you that many Americans who now are refusing to get vaccinated on partisan grounds would decide to get the jab in order to eat out and travel again. Just like they have been in France.

Yes, checking for proof of vaccination would be a pain for countless businesses and venues. But that's far less of a pain than having to close shop again. Some venues are canceling events again in the Los Angeles area due to the new mask mandate. The US could use a centralized, national app for proving vaccination and testing status, like those implemented in other countries. Unfortunately, America's decentralized federal system of government makes developing such as system anytime soon pretty tough.

That said, developing a nationwide vaccine pass system offers what might be our best hope to end the spread of this disease in the United States. Lotteries, giveaways, and PR stunts have not moved enough Americans to get vaccinated to get us to herd immunity. Yet no compassionate person wants to take the risk of allowing even more deadly Covid variants to evolve while thousands more Americans die unnecessarily. America needs a better solution than its status quo, and I think it's time for us to start talking more seriously about vaccine passes as that potential solution.

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