Say No To Vaccine Passports

by | Aug 30, 2021


On August 10, former White House coronavirus task force senior advisor Andy Slavitt tweeted something snarky, as is his habit: “If people who go out and buy fake vaccine cards get COVID, do they expect someone to put them on a real ventilator?” One of his Twitter followers replied, “We need a way to track vaccination that isn’t on a little handwritten paper card. Something that’s very hard to falsify. You have ideas, contacts, resources I bet… Make it HAPPEN, Andy.” He responded, “Hold on for 3 ½ weeks and you will see.” That was two and a half weeks ago.

Right now, the vaccine passport system is a patchwork, with multiple official and unofficial apps. New York State and New York City each have different apps, Excelsior Pass and NYC Covid Safe. Fraud is easy in some apps; others check your claim to be vaccinated against state health records. Many people avoid apps entirely and just take a photo of their vaccination card with their smartphone or carry around a hard copy. A standardized vaccine passport app would clear up these logistical snags. It would be the green light that prompts cities and private businesses currently considering vaccine mandates to start imposing them.

The Biden administration has said repeatedly that there will not be a national vaccine mandate or a national vaccine database. Jen Psaki said in March that “development of a vaccine passport, or whatever you want to call it, will be driven by the private sector.”

Even a private sector vaccine passport should be resisted by every possible means. It is the first step on a slippery slope to a social credit system, and the only time it can be stopped is at the very beginning.

A vaccine passport system would mean, in practice, scanning a QR code any time you enter a place where proof of vaccination is required—restaurants, coffee shops, universities, concert venues, office buildings. Ideally there would also be some way of verifying that the person listed on the passport is the same person who is presenting the QR code. Right now, for example, New York City’s vaccine mandate for restaurants requires patrons present both a vaccine passport and matching ID.

There are very few places where scanning a QR code every time you enter a building is standard protocol. One of them is Xinjiang. Another is Sydney, Australia. The state of New South Wales earlier this year mandated that QR codes be posted at the entrance of every workplace, retail store, restaurant, church, hotel, salon, hospital, pub, and movie theater, plus taxis and Ubers as well as large outdoor gatherings such as weddings and funerals. Everyone coming in must scan the QR code (or sign in manually if they don’t have a smartphone); scanning again to check out is encouraged but not required. Police and private security guards have been posted at grocery store entrances to make sure the mandate is enforced. Fines are up to $5,000 for businesses and $1,000 for patrons.

Right now this system is used for contact tracing. Probably it will soon shift seamlessly into a vaccine passport. Premier Gladys Berejiklian last week teased the idea of adding vaccination status to the same official state app that manages QR code check-ins, making it an “all in one” app. This was part of her announcement that vaccinated Sydneysiders would soon be permitted “additional freedoms,” such as an extra hour of outdoor exercise.

This system of rewards and penalties is reminiscent of the Chinese social credit system, which, according to second-hand reports I have heard, some Australian bureaucrats explicitly cite in private as a model for their country to follow.

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