Friday, May 21, 2021

Coronavirus Update 5-21-2021: We need a digital vaccine passport

Yesterday's post about COVID-19 vaccine-card fraud got me thinking about what we need to do to combat it (other than trying to spot fakes when we can and diligently enforcing the criminal laws that already prohibit this fraud). My answer:

A national digital vaccine passport.

But it's complicated.

Last week, England's National Health Service launched its vaccine passport. It's currently used for people leaving the UK from England, while discussions are in the works to broaden its use to places like pubs and stores. Other European countries (such as France, Italy, and Germany) are examining similar apps in the hopes of rolling them out soon, while other nations, such as Israel and Singapore, have already launched their national vaccine passports.

Here in the U.S., our government has already said it will not develop our own federal digital vaccine passport. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is on record that the Biden Administration strongly opposes the idea.

Let me be very clear on this. … The government is not now nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential. There will be no federal vaccination database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential. As these are being considered by the private and nonprofit sectors our interest is very simple from the federal government, which is American's privacy and rights should be protected so that these systems are not used against people unfairly. … We will be providing some guidance, which will look like an FAQ, that provides important answers to questions that Americans have, in particular around concerns about privacy, security, or discrimination, soon.

But that opposition does little to ease the confusion that CDC has created by opening up the country to anyone who is fully vaccinated. Without a system in place to confirm who is, and more importantly, who is not, fully vaccinated, we are left with the honor system. That system proved itself a failure throughout the pandemic and contributed to a large percentage of our country's 34 million cases and 600,000 deaths. It also has customer-facing employees very nervous.

I very much want to be able to dine inside restaurants, attend large-scale events, and travel on airplanes with the confidence that everyone around me is vaccinated. Thus, I very much support a digital vaccine passport. I understand the privacy concerns, and why our Constitution likely prohibits our government from getting into this business (although New York is using an app as a condition of entry to certain events, as is Hawaii to bypass quarantine when traveling into the state). Other states (e.g., Texas, Florida, Arizona, and Idaho) have enacted executive orders or legislation that expressly prohibit local cities and businesses from establishing COVID-19 vaccination rules. Without clear federal guidance, however, we'll be left with a patchwork of state rules and regulations that solves nothing and only adds to the confusion.

Here's the thing. I'm not telling you that you must get vaccinated (although I very much believe that you should), and I'm not telling you that the government should be mandating that you get vaccinated (because I don't). I'm also not in favor of any forced government registry of the fully vaccinated. But a voluntary registry (either federally operated or accomplished through the private sector) that grants access to a vaccine passport that confirms who is and is not fully vaccinated and, therefore, is allowed to travel about unmasked is an entirely different animal. I'm not saying that you have to get the shot or have to register for said system, but if you exercise your choice not to do so, then you have to understand that your ability to go places sans mask will be limited for the foreseeable future. Choices have consequences. The personal consequences of not registering for this system is a (hopefully) short-term restriction of access to certain places and activities. The systemic consequence of not doing something along these lines, however, is the much more problematic risk of prolonging this pandemic way longer than need be.

So if and when these vaccine passport apps become available I'll be among the first to sign up, and I hope you do the same.

If you find yourself at home tonight, consider visiting either norah marie music or the 48 Hour Virtual Music Fest at 10 pm on Facebook. There you will find my daughter playing an hour of live original music (with a few fun covers sprinkled in). 

This month's 48HVMF is in support of Voices of CLE, a local public art initiative supporting and promoting conversations around racial justice and voices of color. The Fest is raising money to help Voices of CLE with a range of upcoming new projects, partnerships, and works of art, and is accepting donations here
If you watch Norah's performance, please drop a comment and let her know you learned about it here. (And please like her Facebook page while you're at it.)

To close the loop on today's thoughts, I love live music. And I love that my daughter has found several high quality, safe, online outlets to gig while venues have been shuttered. But venues are slowly reopening, and the audiences for these online gigs will start to dwindle. I'd love to be able to see live music again in person (especially Norah playing live music in these venues), but I need to know that I can do so safely. So please, get your shots, be honest with others if you haven't, and let's all get behind the idea of some kind of system that lets us confirm who can, and cannot, safely go maskless.