The Biden administration looks to bring ‘vaccine passports’ to the US

With talk of overseas travel and big entertainment events returning in the not so distant future, the Biden administration is pushing digital apps to credentialise those who have been vaccinated.

If you’re planning a holiday to or from the US in the next few years, you may have to bring a ‘vaccination passport’ along with your physical ID. That’s if the Biden administration gets its way anyway.

Mere months into his inauguration, Biden is plotting a bold strategy to safely re-open hospitality, sporting and entertainment events, and overseas travel. Sounds good eh? It’s just a shame that for many his proposal is blurring the line between civil liberty and public protection.

So, what exactly are we talking here? In short, the President is coordinating with private stakeholders and government agencies to create a digital admissions form called a ‘vaccine passport’. Oh good, more barriers at casual pub visits.

As the name suggests, this digi-doc will serve as definitive proof that someone has had a COVID vaccination once social distancing regulations are scaled back. Theoretically, every vaccinated American will have a unique scannable QR code on their phone or tablet which will act as an admissions ticket to get into restaurants, cinemas, football (or ‘soccer’) matches, gyms, local glee clubs, etc – we’re not judging.

If Biden has shown one thing thus far, it’s that he acts quick and decisively once his mind is made up. Setting a goal of partially vaccinating at least 200 million Americans by the end of his first 100 days in office, the 78-year-old believes the US could be almost completely back to its pre-pandemic normal by Christmastime.

You can imagine then, that the Department of Health and Human Services are hard at work developing a coordinated platform to bring vaccination passports into effect as soon as possible. Biden’s admirable endeavour aside though, making the concept a reality is proving anything but a simple task.

Currently, there are a number of stumbling blocks to contend with of both a practical and ethical nature.

Most people these days are resigned to the fact that convenience with technology relies heavily on giving up some of our data. But when it comes to the introduction of a revolutionary new nationwide system, we expect to know exactly how everything will work. Flippant reassurances simply aren’t enough.

With the private data of 300 million people potentially lingering on a single record, we’ve yet to hear how the government means to protect it from those who will no doubt try to exploit the system for personal gain. Reportedly, more than 17 agencies are working on separate vaccine passport apps too, which only complicates the streamlining process.

We’re not entirely sure whether certain platforms will have a stronger jurisdiction state to state, and beyond that country to country. The WHO is said to be working on its own worldwide program, while several EU nations devise their own iterations. Those with frequent flyer miles could feasibly end up with their data scattered in databases across the globe after one travelling holiday. Madness, if you ask me.

Naturally, the mind then wonders to potential pitfalls with equity. In the UK at the moment, a similar program – track and trace – which aimed to notify people potentially exposed to the virus when out and about, is being panned as a complete waste of billions of tax payers’ earnings.

Little evidence (if any) exists to show the program’s success in doing what it was designed for: stemming the spread of the virus.

Regarding said virus, there continues to be a range of unanswered questions too. We don’t know for certain how long immunity is said to last, to what extent vaccines reduce transmission – or by how much. It’s also yet to be fully established whether all of these factors vary between the four main vaccines in circulation.

More to the point, are we set to exile all those who actively choose not to be vaccinated from modern living for the next few years? See… I told you, simple it is not.

Considering all the aspects we’ve mentioned here, and our current status in terms of fully understanding a virus that has terrorised the planet for over a year, you’d have to say introducing digital admission apps now could turn into a bureaucratic mess.

Over to you again Mr Biden. Some tangible details would be much appreciated.


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