Should the U.S. adopt Israeli-style vaccine passports?


Photo courtesy Industry Week

The Facts

Vaccine passports are much like the yellow card that carries evidence of vaccinations. In places such as Israel, you must have a vaccine passport to be able to enter bars and restaurants. An article in the Washington Post states that the Biden administration is trying to come up with vaccine passports that would prove you have been vaccinated. The motive of this procedure is to protect the safety of business owners and customers. The ideal scenario would be where everyone would feel safer with reopenings, especially people that work in enclosed spaces. The main question lies, however, in the flaws and benefits of this idealistic view and whether these passports should be required. 


The Good

Many people see the vaccine passports as a key aspect to getting things closer to normal. In terms of mental health, it could give people a sense of calmness and restoration without having to be afraid. There was evidence from a survey by the Washington Post that this could motivate skeptical Americans to get their vaccinations and protect themselves along with others. This would put the U.S. one step closer to herd immunity, where enough people become immune to a disease to make its spread slower. 


It also adds a realistic answer to the question of “how can we restart activities that require large amounts of people without infecting others?” It is relatively the best plan that we have so far to ensure the safety of everyone in the community and help these big-population businesses continue gaining a profit. If we decided to just let people go, another wave may occur infecting and killing more people. 


It would also provide people with more leniency to travel, allowing visits to their family in other countries. If you have the passport, you would be able to skip the 2 week quarantine and see your family. ABC News reports that also, depending on the airline, such as ones in San Francisco, you may not be able to board the plane without a vaccine passport right now. 


Despite many people’s worries about the “new system”, this is not the first time there has been a vaccine passport. Healthline states that proof of immunization for yellow fever is already needed to travel to countries like Ghana and Brazil. You also must submit a vaccination record to go to school, and in some cases, work. In all, if this plan worked out, it could create a great basis to build better. 


The Bad

As the good comes, the bad also comes. Falsified passports are on the rise in countries that have adopted these records, making them uncertified and not helping to accommodate the situation. Companies are making money by illegally producing fake records. Reported from the Israeli Times, thousands reportedly attempted to obtain easily forged vaccine certificates. Whoever scans the false passport will see the exact same details as are printed on the pass, and there are already tens of thousands of people forging. The demand for such proof has led to falsified and counterfeit paper versions of vaccine certificates. All the effort will turn into mist if people falsely claim their vaccination, continue to expose themselves to COVID-19 at events, and possibly infect others there. Even people who have been vaccinated could be infected again, and may carry that virus towards the unvaccinated people around them. 


On top of that, COVID-19 immunity has not been fully proven. Scientists don’t know whether everyone produces enough antibodies to guarantee future protection, what a safe amount of a dose might be, or how long immunity might last. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), suggest that recovered individuals could be protected from re-infection for one year. But data suggests that the vast majority of surveys aren’t reliable. This causes false positives, leading people to think they are immune when they aren’t. Until we are sure how the vaccine works exactly and if people who have already gotten COVID and recovered are clear to immunity, this plan could be risky. 


The last concern is probably the biggest issue. It would inflict further division and discrimination. The Guardian presents an overview that labelling people on the basis of their COVID-19 vaccination status would create a new measure by which to divide the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.  Do we really want to give priority to people who hold the circumstances to receive the vaccine? People do have a variety of reasons they can’t or won’t get vaccinated including personal beliefs, underlying health conditions, age, and so many more. If this were to get implemented, people are saying it should be a choice not a requirement. 


The Conclusion

The national coordinator at Information Technology, Micky Tripathi, suggested using a word other than “passports” which implied that they were issued by the government, and could cause further isolation conflicts. He suggested words like “certificate” or “credentials” which would possibly make them less of an obligation issued by the government. In the end, like many plans, this one has its upsides and downsides.