Vaccine passports remain political flash point in U.S.

·Senior Writer
·4 min read

With more than half of Americans having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, so-called passports for those fully vaccinated remain a political flash point among conservatives and others who believe they would violate privacy concerns.

But recent national polling by Yahoo News suggests the country is warming to the idea, and early data out of New York — the first state to introduce a formal vaccine passport program — shows promise.

In practice, however, there have been clashes, particularly on college campuses. Just this week, Indiana University had to dial back a policy that required proof of vaccination from teachers and students after receiving blowback from state officials.

After the state attorney general issued a nonbinding opinion making vaccine passports illegal, the school modified its requirement that students and employees provide proof of getting COVID-19 shots before returning to campus. Now students and employees can attest to their vaccination status without showing proof, and other students can request exemptions from the vaccine requirement for medical or religious reasons.

“Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for IU students, faculty and staff with appropriate exemptions continues the university's comprehensive science and public health-driven approach to managing and mitigating the pandemic on our campuses,” university president Michael McRobbie said in a statement Tuesday. “Throughout the pandemic our paramount concern has been ensuring the health and safety of the IU community. This requirement will make a 'return to normal' a reality for the fall semester.”

A Mets fan shows a vaccine passport on her phone as she arrives for a game at Citi Field in New York on April 24. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)
A New York Mets fan shows a vaccine passport on her phone as she arrives for a game at Citi Field on April 24. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

In New York, where more than 9 million people have been fully vaccinated, the "return to normal" already includes showing proof of immunization to attend concerts and sporting events. The New York Times reported that there have been 1.1 million downloads of the Excelsior Pass, the nation’s first government-issued vaccine passport, since it was introduced in March.

The pass is essentially a QR code on your phone that indicates your vaccine status, and state officials are hoping it catches on as stadiums and arenas continue to increase their capacities.

Republican governors in other states, including Texas, Florida, Idaho and Arizona, have signed executive orders banning the use of vaccine passports. And prominent conservatives have seized on the issue.

On Monday, Fox News host Tucker Carlson likened the use of vaccine passports to segregation.

"Medical Jim Crow has come to America,” Carlson proclaimed.

Such comments are not helpful to the Biden administration's push to get to the kind of lasting protection known as herd immunity.

Photo illustration: Dado Ruvic/Reuters
Photo illustration: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

In May, President Biden set an ambitious goal of giving 70 percent of U.S. adults at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot by July 4, and there is a real chance the country will hit that target. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 63 percent of American adults have received at least one jab.

Still, the White House has no plans for a vaccine passport program at the federal level.

"You could foresee how an independent entity might say, 'Well, we can't be dealing with you unless we know you're vaccinated,'" Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Biden's top coronavirus adviser, said a week after New York rolled out its passport program. "But it's not going to be mandated from the federal government."

Unsurprisingly, public opinion is divided over vaccine passports. In the latest Yahoo News/YouGov poll, 45 percent of Americans say they favor the idea while 40 percent oppose it; when asked if “certain businesses” should “require proof of COVID-19 vaccination from customers,” respondents narrowly lean the other way (39 percent favor, 43 percent oppose). These numbers have held steady in recent weeks.

Yet as more Americans get vaccinated — and as it becomes increasingly clear that a significant minority won’t be getting vaccinated anytime soon — support for government-mandated vaccine passports in specific situations has started to rise. The biggest bumps have come for “flying on an airplane” (up from 51 percent to 58 percent over the past two weeks) and “attending school” (up from 42 percent to 46 percent).

Source: Yahoo News/YouGov
Source: Yahoo News/YouGov

Andrew Romano contributed reporting to this story.

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