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WASHINGTON — When it comes to decrying the concept of “vaccine passports,” conservatives have company. The idea’s detractors now include certain business owners, who fear customer backlash and the hassle or danger of enforcing the policy, and even prominent public health advocates, too.

The proof-of-vaccine concept is gaining traction in some circles globally and within the U.S., including among some professional sports teams, a major university, and highly vaccinated countries like Israel. In New York and Hawaii, among other states, governors have pitched the idea as a means of returning to normal life.

But the concept represents a “slippery slope,” said Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association — one that could politicize the vaccine rollout, make health inequities worse, and even lull vaccinated people into a false sense of security.

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“It’s impractical,” Benjamin said in an interview. “This is a nation that does not allow a national identity card. Getting compliance is going to be hard, and I think it leads to politicization. I would like to avoid that.”

The widespread resistance could doom the concept of a vaccine pass before there’s any real attempt to implement it. Already, several business coalitions have expressed relief that the federal government won’t attempt any national system, and suggested most of the companies they represent won’t pursue the idea either.

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“We’re grateful to learn that there will not be a national mandated verification program,” Audrey Schaefer, the head of communications at the National Independent Venues Association, which represents local performance spaces across the country, said in an email. “While vaccine verification is the hot topic, we have questions and concerns surrounding the effectiveness of only implementing verification at live events and not other businesses where people gather; the cost implications for small businesses; and equitable access and ethical issues surrounding such programs.”

The opposition to a proof-of-vaccination system, even if it’s not run by any government and is only for voluntary activities like sports games or dining out, is reminiscent of one of the country’s largest pandemic failures: The politicization of wearing masks. The early resistance to a vaccine-passport scheme, though, appears even more intense, and its sources more diverse. According to public health and ethics experts, the morality of requiring vaccination to enter a concert hall or stadium is also significantly more fraught.

The pushback also illustrates the unlikelihood of a quick transition to post-pandemic life. Given the outcry, the concept of widespread “vaccinated-only” policies at movie theaters or restaurants seems increasingly far-fetched, even in cities and states where most adults are vaccinated. Many local governments haven’t taken a stance or have indicated they’ll leave the decision to businesses — and in many cases, businesses have expressed little interest in becoming vaccine enforcers.

Resistance to the concept of vaccine passports is nothing new. But it quickly intensified this week after the Washington Post reported the federal government was working on a program to set standards for potential proof-of-vaccine programs around the country (but, the story stressed, not pursuing a federal vaccine passport program).

The report nonetheless caused anger on Capitol Hill and among Republican governors, who have long cast the idea as a threat to freedom, regardless of whether it’s implemented by a government or by a business.

Businesses and public health advocates writing off the idea, however, may be more telling than any individual lawmaker’s objection.

Many businesses are worried about the impracticality of enforcing a vaccination requirement, particularly at theaters, concert halls, restaurants, hair salons, and any other business that relies on indoor gatherings. Doing so, some said, could alienate some customers, hurt revenue, and even lead to safety concerns.

“With some of the mask mandates, businesses had to increase security,” said Xiomara Peña, the vice president for engagement at Small Business Majority, a nonpartisan, business-focused advocacy group. “That was a little bit easier to enforce. But how could this impact the bottom line of businesses, ultimately, I think it’s still to be determined.”

Many public health experts have also expressed ambivalence or outright opposition, though their reasoning is usually different.

Asking for proof of vaccination could politicize the immunization effort more broadly, Benjamin said, even if the people requiring it aren’t government officials. He and others have also argued the system could also worsen racial and economic gaps in who has received shots so far, further punishing people for being unable to access vaccines.

Benjamin’s chief worry, however, was neither ethical nor political.

“The biggest concern I have is a false sense of security,” Benjamin said. Given the fragmented vaccination rollout, remaining unknowns about real-world vaccine efficacy, and their protectiveness against new viral variants, he argued that allowing vaccinated people to gather without distancing or masks could backfire.

While public health experts and business owners’ response has been tepid, most Republicans’ has been incandescent, even for proposals limited to individual businesses.

In Washington, lawmakers including Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.) have cast the idea as a basic threat to liberty, and described the idea, among other terms, as “Orwellian.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.), a known conspiracist who has referred to vaccine passports as “the mark of the beast,” introduced legislation this week banning passports and prohibiting any school or business that requires a vaccine, or even a mask, from receiving federal funds.

With a Democratic president and Democrat-controlled Congress, individual GOP lawmakers have little power to prevent vaccine-passport systems from being implemented. But the same might not be true for Republican governors.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said this week that he would soon attempt to issue an emergency ban on businesses requiring proof of vaccination, and that he would urge the GOP-controlled legislature to enact a more permanent prohibition. Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota called the proposals “un-American.”

Taken together, resistance from state governments and from the businesses who’d have to enforce the requirements present a major obstacle to the proposal, which has generated enthusiasm in other countries even amid American opposition.

The most-cited international success story is Israel, where 58% of citizens have gotten at least one vaccine dose. There, a “green pass” system allows people the chance to use public swimming pools and enter concert venues once they show proof of vaccination, or that they’ve recovered from Covid-19.

Comparable efforts in the U.S., though, have been rare. New York’s “Excelsior Pass,” a voluntary phone-based program developed with IBM, has allowed some venues to request proof of immunization or a recent negative Covid-19 test.

A handful of baseball teams, including the New York Mets, New York Yankees, and San Francisco Giants, will require proof of vaccination or proof of a recent negative coronavirus test to enter their stadiums, which are operating at sharply limited capacities. Other teams, like the NBA’s Miami Heat, now sell tickets to voluntary vaccinated-only sections, where mask use is still required but social distancing rules are relaxed.

Rutgers University, the largest public college in New Jersey, also recently announced it would require all its students to be vaccinated as a condition of enrollment beginning in September.

Those examples, though, are the exception, not the rule. Rutgers stands alone among universities in its future vaccine requirement, and large majorities of professional basketball and baseball teams have no restrictions in place beyond requiring masks and limiting capacity.

Most sports leagues’ lack of interest in a testing or vaccine requirement mirrors the broader tone throughout the U.S., where polling shows the public is almost evenly split on the issue.

President Biden has not spoken to the issue publicly. Nor has the White House, with one exception: A rush to distance itself from any vaccine-passport campaign, and stress that any federal effort would focus only on creating guidelines for businesses and localities, not actually implementing a vaccine-passport system.

“We expect …. a vaccine passport, or whatever you want to call it, will be driven by the private sector,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said at a recent briefing. “There will be no centralized, universal federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”

  • Is it not true that because these vaccines have been given only emergency approval because they have not gone through the normal and lengthy approval process that the US gov cannot entertain the idea of a forced vaccine passport. All of the vaccines we now take when we travel etc are from approved as safe vaccine that did go through the normal process. And this is why big pharma has been given total immunity from liability if something unintentionally goes wrong with their vaccines.

  • When I received my Covid vaccine, I also received a record of vaccination card which if a Covid passport ever becomes law, will suffice as a record / passport. I still have a accordion type paper record of vaccination showing all the vaccinations that I received during my time in the military. If you are organized and keep your important documents, this is not a problem.

    • That vaccination card will not be accepted by other countries because it has zero security. All it takes is cardstock and any inkjet printer to make your own, and redcap anti-vaccers have been bragging that they are doing so.

      It’s worthless. This has to be a secure blockchain based solution.

    • Don’t listen to Wintercat. Everyone that gets the vaccine is reported to the Health department and you have your medical record.

  • I am 77 years old, in moderately good health. My trust in the medical industrial complex is destroyed and I WILL NOT BE VACCINATED. Call me a conspiracist if you must but NIH, CDC, FDA and WHO have proven to be unreliable and not worthy of the Public Trust from the very beginning of the COVID SCARE.
    I’ll take my chances with the flu, shop and go were there are no mandates for vaccine or stupid, ineffective mask. Yesterday I resigned from my womens game night club because they are going to resume meeting if everyone is vaccinated. I will miss them dearly.

    • Georgia, actually if everyone but you is vaccinated in your club, then they have very little to fear from you. You should make that argument so you aren’t effectively ostracized.

      I find the attitude of your club members very disheartening. It’s the “safteyism” attitude I mentioned in another comment. It could potentially rip the social fabric.

      I also totally understand your skepticism about our “experts.” They were guessing a year ago and they’re guessing now. I do think they have our best interests at heart, even the Napoleon Complex Fauci, but their ability to understand and manage risks is astonishingly weak.

      FYI, I am somewhat younger than you, but I have already had the first shot, and will get the second shortly. I completely understand the risks, having read a lot of the literature, and I am doing so as a free actor who is willing to take on those risks, some of which, frankly, can be pretty scary. (see for example “antibody dependency enhancement”).

      But I respect the decision that you are taking, and would have you in my club.

  • As a physician and public health epidemiologist I am not taking the CV19 vaccine. I had COVID a year ago and I continue to wear my mask and social distance. This is a safety issue decision for me including long term safety following these novel vaccines. Someone correctly pointed out the Pfizer Moderna mRNA vaccines have EUA only. They completed phase 3 trials that enrolled a total number of volunteers less than the incidence of many potentially harmful adverse events making their safety data very limited. The cohort was followed for just 2 months giving us no durability data. The demographics of the cohort were not representative of the populous at large including those most vulnerable to the virus. Now we are in the phase 4 part of trial with vaccines being administered widely in the community. And we are doing this during an active widespread pandemic something we have never done before. This phase 4 period is when we should be closely following the safety. That means investigating every reported adverse event. In addition we do not know the durability of the immunity these vaccines render or whether infection post waning vaccine benefit will result in Antibody Dependent Enhancement of infection when the virus is encountered. The SARsCoV2 virus causes a systemic inflammatory response, so does the vaccine as evidenced by its reactogenicity. This raises the question of whether people with prior illness should vaccinate and when. There have been a number of papers on the “real world” effectiveness of Pfizer and Moderna but there have been no papers or studies on safety, with the exception of a limited one month CDC report, since their roll out. Why? There have been adverse events, even deaths as collected by VAERS. We follow the blood clot issues following the AstraZeneca vaccine but overlook the 7,000 severe reactions and 2050 deaths reported so far following Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. These adverse events need to be thoroughly evaluated by a neutral party, not the manufacturers as is currently being done.
    The entire pandemic has become politicized and even monitorized from PPEs to masks to vaccines to now virtue signaling thru vaccine passports. Those who chose to vaccinate and re-vaccinate should be demanding the safety data on a never used before vaccine construct that they are injecting in their bodies. Until then I will serve as a control in this phase 4 trial period and push my public health colleagues to exhibit some sensibility as demonstrated by Dr Georges Benjamin’s comments in this article.

    • I understand your skepticism, and the 2,000 deaths sounds scary — however without specific established causality from vaccine to death, these deaths could be a function of the unrelated syndromes. I’ve always been skeptical of the AZ vaccine, since it is DNA not mRNA based, and maybe these side affects are directly related.

      Meanwhile, millions have been vaccinated already, so the potential side effect numbers are very very low. Some have argued that the vaccines are unnecessary because we’re on the cusp of herd immunity, and that argument has merit.

      The inherent problem with vaccines as a methodology is that you need a very very long time to truly assess contraindications, and the true level of side effect incidence. Typically vaccines take years, and we have done this at warp speed. If you wait years, the issue becomes moot as these viral epidemics eventually peter out.

      These are difficult calls, and there are always downsides, one way or the other. Again, as I have said elsewhere on STAT, this is a risk management exercise, and our public health and pharma folks are very very weak at risk management.

    • This is the phase 3 trial sir all of them. This CEO and report makes it clear Astra Zeneca was stopping its Phase 3 trial. The only one so far. The expected end date of these trials is apprx 2/14/2023. Do some research. Half are placebo. Half, not all. War Crimes, which means this is a War!
      AstraZeneca CEO says participant had neurological symptoms, could be discharged today
      https://www.statnews.com/2020/09/09/astrazeneca-covid19-vaccine-trial-hold-patient-report/

  • I agree with Bill. Schools have required proof of immunization for decades. Adding proof of Covid vaccine to the list is not a big deal. In addition, the US federal government has been clear it will not implement a proof of vaccination program, but rather create guidelines for businesses (airlines, movie theaters, etc) that wish to implement use of a passport.

    In reference to Republican Christian Nationalists (Marjorie Taylor Greene) that choose to demonize a proof of vaccine program….
    1) If businesses should be able to choose masking rules as opposed to government implementation, why not same standard for proof of vaccination?
    2) The ‘mark of the beast’ reference seems to be a religious scare tactic rather than an informed biblical reference. Revelation’s mark of the beast could be social security numbers, use of a mask, currently used vaccination cards, debit cards, Star of David used by Nazis to ID Jews in WWII, etc etc etc. MT GREENE needs to focus more on traditional Christian values of grace, kindness and forgiveness if she really wants to identify as Christian.

  • Schools have required proof of vaccinations for students to attend for decades. Vaccine passports are no different in the school context. As for Rutgers, I was there in 1994 when there was a significant measles outbreak (See https://www.nytimes.com/1994/03/28/nyregion/rutgers-orders-measles-shots-after-outbreak.html) which led to policy changes and a massive vaccination effort.

    Now I understand that applying those restrictions to venues that host sporting events, concerts, movies and the like is a little different. But scientists agree that beating this virus will require us to get enough people vaccinated to reach herd immunity. For some people, vaccination is an easy choice. For others, there have to be tangible benefits to convince them to vaccinate. And, as long as the Government isn’t mandating the use Vaccine passports, the fact that some venues choose to embrace them to keep their customers and staff safe, it shouldn’t be controversial, even to Trumpublicans.

    • Bill, as someone who voted for Trump, as opposed to voting for a cognitively challenged and physically frail member of a totalitarian and intrusively Stalinist open borders political movement that loves shady and arguably unconstitutional voting practices rife with potential fraud (hey, anybody can fling the insults). . .

      . . .I basically agree with you.

      However, every situation is different and we have to be careful that we are not comparing apples and oranges. Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and SmallPox vaccines have decades of efficacy and safety data. Moreover, with these syndromes, little kids are disease factories. Covid? It barely affects them, and vaccinating them is arguably a waste of money and effort.

      Moreover, if you have been infected already — like that dastardly Trumpublican and accomplished medically trained ophthalmologist Rand Paul — should you be “forced” to take that vaccine? Senator Paul, like others who have been infected and survived intact, is arguably another data point on the way to herd immunity. (Just to be clear, Paul is NOT and anti-vaxxer).

      There are ways to do this. For example, consider cruise ships, always a potential petri dish. If you show you’ve been vaccinate, come on board. If you don’t, take a test and if you pass, you do — plus you need to sign a wavier that if you DO get infected, you get confined to your cabin for the duration.

      Some of the comments here are disheartening, because they reflect a troubling attitude of “safetyism” — an attitude abroad in the land that says “We have to SAFE!!! SAFE!!! Everybody has to COMPLY!! The DANGER!!”

      Sorry, life is full of risks, and inevitably tragic. We can’t completely avoid risks. We have to manage them prudently so people can lives of freedom.

  • I am all about the freedom to decide to get a vaccination.. but I would like someone vaccinated to sit on each side of me on an air flight . I do not want to sit next to someone who does not care that they could transmit a disease to me.. and potentially kill me. The only exception would be someone with anaphylaxis to the COVID vaccine or a terrible immune compromised state that contradicts its’ administration. For those of us who are thoughtful enough to get the vaccine, who care that they could hurt some innocent bystander,,, and get the vaccine, I think they deserve this common courtesy of safety in traveling.. AT least the feeling that they did they best the could to prevent COVID. While there are no guarantees.. it is nice to know others sitting next to you took the precaution. They were considerate enough about another humans’ life. I do not think this is too much to ask. Do businesses really want customers who could damage their reputations with serious super spreader events?? I would find this very hard to believe. People need to realize that they are not alone on this planet…and they should be considerate to others.. 550,000 deaths later.. should be a good enough reason.

    • You do not go far enough. What about the flu vaccine? what if the person sitting next you on the airplane has an infectious skin rash? what if he has HIV? HBV? HCV? Can you grantee he does not have ebola?
      Are you going to allow that?
      Why do not you ask to get the full access to the medical records for anyone before granting him/her the privilege of sitting next to you on an airplane ? Any considerate person will agree to that.

    • Claudia are you not aware that these vaccines are not designed to prevent transmission of Covid-19? They are only designed to protect those who get the vaccine. These are not traditional vaccines like the measles one that are designed to create herd immunity. It is mind boggling that people can’t see that idea of vaccine passports is ludicrous, will not protect other people and is discriminatory to those who’s doctors have told them they cannot take the vaccine.

    • I am in agreement with Mahmoud. Most people don’t realize this, but most adults are walking around completely unvaccinated, since a) babies used to be given far fewer vaccines in the past and b) most vaccines wear off in 2-10 years. You are putting yourself at risk by not demanding that every single person you sit next to has recently received the full childhood schedule of vaccines, all 69 doses. People that don’t keep ALL vaccines up to date are so incredibly selfish, aren’t they?

    • So what you want is someone sitting next to you who has a particular world view. What I want is someone who can’t infect me. People who have been vaccinated can still catch and transmit the virus (despite Wellensky’s recent “overly broad” claim otherwise, which other people from the CDC quickly walked back). Even on the most optimistic reading, the vaccines are about 90 percent effective; breakthrough cases are already emerging. Since I want to actually be safe, what I want is the person next to me to wear a mask and to have recently tested negative. Their vaccination status does nothing for me.

  • I think vaccine passports will come about by default. I am a psychotherapist who practices out of my home, and during the pandemic: virtually. Vaccinated patients are now asking to return to -face-to-face sessions. I will not see unvaccinated patients in my home office because by 82-year-old husband chooses not to vaccinate. Nor will I go to my doctor’s office if he does not assure me, as he did about the flu, that all workers are vaccinated. Nor will I sit in a movie theater where people are not vaccinated, nor eat indoors in a such a restaurant. So doctors’ (and dentists’ and opthalmologists’ practices as well movie theaters who do not require vaccination will lose customers like me. What about in colleges? Will that make them less competitive? I would not go into debt to send my child (fortunately my children are grown and feel as I do) to a college where they could contract Covid. Elementary and secondary schools, as well as the Army, already mandate vaccines, and documentation that they have taken place. We will see what happens as long as people refuse vaccines and Covid infections continue to decimate populations.

    • Vaccinated people can still catch and transmit the virus (despite Walensky’s recent assertion, which other people from the CDC quickly walked back). Even on an optimistic reading, the vaccines are only about 90 percent effective, and breakthrough cases are now showing up. How are you protecting your husband by requiring that only vaccinated people be around him and you? You can still catch covid from them. Really, I am more worried about being around vaccinated people, since they can more readily have asymptomatic cases and yet be infectious. If you really want to protect your husband, you should require your patients to wear masks, and perhaps to show regular proof that they test negative.

    • So you demand that anyone that you interact with be vaccinated to protect your husband who has chosen not to vaccinate. You sound very selfish and hypocritical. Everyone should be allowed to make their own choice on this matter without interference from government, the business sector or Nervous Nellie’s like you. We have already lost a year of our lives thanks to government overreach on an illness that mostly has a 99% survivability rate for most people. Never before in history have the healthy quarantined. I agree with the post that someone wrote earlier. Life has inherent risks and those people that are afraid of life should step aside and let the rest of us get on with living. Considering that you are a psychotherapist, maybe you should analyze yourself. You may discover that you are projecting your frustration and lack of control over the fact that your husband won’t vaccinate onto everyone else. Please stop assisting the powers that be in the further destruction of our Constitution.

  • Spare me the “show me your papers” routine. We are told to “follow the science.” If you believe in an EUA vaccine as being LONG TERM SAFE then go for it. If you follow the science then you have nothing to fear. The relatively few of us who do not feel comfortable accepting these vaccines are NO RISK OF HARM TO YOU WHATSOEVER. Thus there is no need for any such “proof of vaccination program”.

    What if this mutates and this becomes a once a year vaccine just like the flu? Are there going to be different levels of “proof” to show you have the latest and greatest vaccine out there? Are you next going to “require” flu vaccinations? Yes, it IS a slippery slope. There is a vast difference between requiring a smoke free location or wearing masks. Neither of those requires ME to stick something into my body that I am not comfortable with. Every day we are inundated with commercial from attorneys trying to get money for people harmed by drugs THAT WERE FULLY VETTED AND FDA APPROVED. So yes, I am NOT comfortable with an EUA vaccine.

    I am an emergency services volunteer. I agreed with much of what this country did to head off the over crowding of hospitals and a higher death rate. But I strenuously object to ANY type of mandatory vaccination program just to live my life. Those of us who are not comfortable being vaccinated remain only a threat to each other and we chose to accept that risk. You have been vaccinated. You are safe. Restaurants, theaters, concert venues are thus safe. Unless….UNLESS you have second thoughts about how effective those vaccines REALLY ARE? And if THAT is the case then we who choose to not be vaccinated are vindicated because we are being misled.

    • Paul, I agree 100%.
      I am an RN and cannot believe how so many in the medical community are going along with this. Though there is one light in the darkness: if you read polls, nurses everywhere seem to be refusing these shots. Very telling indeed.
      The “anti-vaxx” movement is now mainstream and you nailed the argument: the pro-vaxxers don’t need to be scared of us, we hypothetically should be the ones who are scared. But we do not let fear run our lives. Quite the opposite, in fact. If you look at the data, and this has been since day 1, the only groups that require protection are the elderly and those with comorbidities. When this changes (and it hasn’t since day 1), maybe they can convince me to take an experimental vaccine. Until then, as they say, my body, my choice.
      I was ashamed when Biden said he doesn’t understand the resistance to getting a vaccine. I believe he used the word “macho”? So an AMERICAN President doesn’t “understand”. Therein lies the problem. The America I know doesn’t take well to being forced to do anything. We like having choices-just check out our cereal aisles in the grocery.

    • It is about caring about more than yourself. I cannot get the flu vaccine as I have a medical reaction to it. But I did tolerate the COVID vaccine. I was hesitant.. then I said I want freedom again.. without a fight. If enough terrible events happen, the COVID virus mutates to something even worse…then all the people who remained vectors for this disease are to blame. The vaccines are not 100% effective…unless the newly trialed adolescents with Pfizer ….. Millions of doses of COVID vaccine have been given,, so few anaphylaxis cases per millions.. I am not sure I could live with myself knowing that I harbored an illness and gave it to someone and they died. In a pandemic… waiting for LONG trials of vaccines is not an option.

    • Thank you for expressing this better than I could, Paul! I agree 100% and it is truly sickening how many people want to force others to get injected with toxic substances just to make themselves feel safe!

    • AGREED! Here’s my rant, I don’t understand why those who have been vaccinated are still fearful. If they have so much faith in the vaccine then why are they still afraid after being vaccinated? Also, what does everyone think will happen if they did get the virus? My guess is INEVITABLE DEATH…but that’s what the media would like you to think 😉 It seems clear to me that everyone has been steered to focus on the death toll, not the number of people that have SURVIVED.
      The unanswered questions about the vaccine scares me more than the virus itself. I will not inject anything into my body that requires me to sign a consent form releasing the manufactures of any responsibility to adverse side effects. Hear me out, I’m in my late 30’s, I exercise and make a conscious effort to eat healthy. I don’t drink, smoke, or take medications (and have never received a flu vaccine). If this “vaccine passport” becomes a reality then I would have to put my healthy body at risk to continue living a normal life. Am I the only one who thinks this is completely unfair and absurd?!
      If you are at risk then by all means, get the vaccine and protect YOURSELF.
      What’s next? Will we force smokers to stop smoking to avoid the health risk of second hand smoke? What about the use of condoms? Can we get a passport that mandates the use of condoms to stop spreading viruses and diseases? I know that’s a bit preposterous but JEEZ, so many people are so quick to inject fluid into their bodies that they don’t understand or know anything about… and they want to force me to do it too!

    • 100% agree Paul and I have worked with covid patients and do not plan go get this vaccine.

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