On Monday, TV personality Dr. Commenting on his rejection of COVID-19 vaccination cards, Drew said, “These vaccination cards separate people and deprive them of the freedom to travel internationally. Vaccinations are important and I encourage everyone to get the Covid vaccine. But how would you feel if other vaccinations were required for international travel? “
It went back on Tuesday – but it seemed like a good question to thousands of people on Twitter.
It is not.
While vaccination records have emerged as the most recent hot spot in the COVID-19 pandemic, most people already have documentation showing that they have been vaccinated against certain diseases. And many public health experts say such evidence will be key to getting life back to normal while preventing future COVID-19 outbreaks.
“People have been suffering for over a year and want their lives back,” Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University, told BuzzFeed News. “They want to go to restaurants, watch movies, travel to see loved ones, and get back to work. Vaccination records offer a path to a faster and safer return to normal life. “
As vaccines become more prevalent, the prospect of COVID-19 vaccine passports is becoming a reality for many people. The European Union is expected to introduce them in June. Israel, which is the leader in vaccines administered to date, has already introduced one. China has one too. Britain is debating its own version. New York State has introduced a voluntary Excelsior Pass that contains proof of vaccination or a negative test for access to sporting events, music venues, and businesses. At least eight major airlines are working on a version of a coronavirus pass, as is Walmart.
To date, more than 64 million people, or nearly one in five Americans, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
But the federal government – including Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases – has made it clear so far that it will make no effort to obtain a national vaccination record. Instead, work is being done to fix the more than a dozen versions that are being developed in the private sector.
Many Republican leaders have resisted such measures, suggesting that they would constitute a violation of government. On Friday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed an ordinance banning the use of COVID-19 vaccination cards in the state. On Sunday, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves told CNN that he had also spoken out against her. Texas governor Greg Abbott joined on Tuesday.
“The pass is a good idea,” pediatrician and medical historian Howard Markel told BuzzFeed News. “How it got politicized is very worrying and difficult for people in public health to understand.”
This politicization has had real effects. A recent survey found that only 50% of US citizens would support a voluntary document attesting vaccination.
The US debate is, in many ways, a repetition of the banning and contact tracing debate. Should people in the US accept restrictions on their personal freedom in the name of public health? Do these temporary measures remain in place long after they are needed? Is people’s privacy protected? The idea of vaccination passports, however, is nothing new: in the US there is already a patchwork of private and public institutions that require people to prove they have been vaccinated.
“We already keep a record of vaccinations in our medical records. Schools keep records of children. Many hospitals keep them for their employees. These should be known, ”said Gostin.
In order to travel internationally, people must already prove that they have been vaccinated. To enter the US, travelers are required to provide records of disease vaccinations – 14 total – including hepatitis A and B, two types of influenza, polio and chickenpox. These records are kept in a booklet from the World Health Organization. The US armed forces, which send their members around the world, require around a dozen vaccinations, depending on the location.
Proof of vaccination is also required to enroll children in school in all 50 states. In Florida, where DeSantis is governor, kindergarten children through 12th grade must be vaccinated against six diseases. California and Texas each need seven. Since the vaccination requirements for schools are regulated at the state level – there is no federal mandate – many states allow parents to believe themselves personally or allow religious exceptions. California is among the states that lifted such exemptions after a dangerous measles outbreak that began in Disneyland in 2015 hit the state.
Ever since vaccines have existed, public health officials have been asking people to show they have received them. From the 19th century onwards, as historian Jordan E. Taylor wrote in Time magazine, US authorities required people to show that they had been vaccinated against smallpox. Immigration officials requested proof of vaccination on Ellis Island in New York and Angel Island in San Francisco. Companies have made it a condition of employment. And during local outbreaks, police asked people to provide evidence that they had been vaccinated.
There are real concerns about vaccination records. Some people worry about their digital rights or the invasion of privacy. However, Gostin, who co-authored an article in the American Medical Association’s Journal on potential ethical issues, said vaccination records contained very little information. “Vaccination records protect your privacy in many ways. They do not ask for any information to be disclosed other than whether or not you received a vaccine, ”he wrote.
Others doubt whether it is fair to ask for proof of vaccination in the US as the black and Latin American communities have been vaccinated at disproportionately low rates. Experts take this seriously, but have suggested that as vaccines become more prevalent, these concerns will decrease.
“Justice cannot be an afterthought,” said Gostin. “We cannot have passports as long as there is a shortage of vaccines. Within a month or two, the vaccines will haunt people, not the other way around. Everyone will have a fair chance of getting it. “
Public health experts stressed that it was understandable if people were unsure about vaccination records and encouraged them to speak to their health care providers if they had any questions.
“My recommendation is to consult your doctor or the WHO or CDC websites,” said Markel. “Have a good conversation with your doctor. We don’t want to bully people. “