DeSantis: I'll take executive action to ban "vaccine passports"

The debate over this issue is overblown. Once reopening begins in earnest this summer, most businesses won’t want to limit their clientele by demanding “vaccine passports.” They know, or soon will, that something like 20 percent of the public doesn’t want to be vaccinated. That’s a lot of customers to write off at a moment when Americans, including unvaccinated Americans, will emerge from consumer hibernation to socialize again and start throwing money around.

And Michael Brendan Dougherty’s right that passports will heighten social conflict. If they take the form of smartphone apps, poorer and/or less tech-savvy people may find their ability to access certain places limited. Those facing obstacles to getting vaccinated in the first place despite their willingness to do so will also be locked out. “In fact, the first thing [passports] would do is close things down, because it bars people from doing things they’ve already been doing throughout the pandemic: shopping, traveling, gathering together, attending weddings and funerals,” Dougherty notes. “You would be instituting new and harsher restrictions at the very time the pandemic was ending.”

But as for banning businesses from asking for proof of vaccination, as DeSantis wants to do? Nah. Let business owners form their own judgments about the wisdom of restricting admission to the vaccinated. Most will decide against it for the simple reason that if they’re sufficiently pro-vax as to considering demanding passports then they’re almost certainly sufficiently pro-vax to have gotten the jab themselves, which means they’ll be at little risk from any unvaccinated patrons on their premises. But I think it’s reasonable for a business owner to conclude that, if forced to choose between excluding people who can’t get the vaccine for health reasons (e.g., they’re allergic) and people who won’t get the vaccine for ideological ones, he’d rather make his shop safer for the former rather than the latter.

Although there are compromise positions too, no? “You don’t need a passport but you do need a mask” would be a way to limit transmissions without barring the unvaccinated entirely.

Dougherty detects a punitive strain in the push for passports and worries that it’ll backfire by hardening the resolve of anti-vaxxers against being immunized. Dan McLaughlin, however, worries about the alternate scenario in which the public health bureaucracy continues to drag its feet on encouraging vaccinated people to live life again and, as a result, some meaningful share of those who did the right thing and got their shots remains cooped up at home. Vaccine passports would incentivize people not only to get vaccinated but to start socializing again:

[T]he virtue of a vaccine passport should be that it allows people to do things — say, visiting nursing homes, or entering businesses without a mask — that they would otherwise not be able to do yet. We should have been louder and clearer in getting out the message that getting the shot gets you freer, faster. Our public communications on vaccines have been a mess, and one part is that the public-health community (Dr. Fauci in particular) have been unwilling to encourage people with the carrot of more freedom from lockdowns, masks, and social distancing as an incentive to get vaccinated.

The idea of some vaccinated people needing encouragement to go out and socialize after a year in isolation sounds absurd, but it’s real. An older relative of mine who was fully vaccinated weeks ago turned down the opportunity to go out to dinner on Easter because, well, why take even a small risk? She’s used to ordering food to her home now so that’s what she’ll do. If vaccine passports were in place, people like that might feel more comfortable going out in the assurance that they wouldn’t be sharing any spaces with strangers carrying a meaningful risk of infection.

Anyway, DeSantis will be running for president in 2024 (assuming Trump doesn’t) and is trying to keep both camps of the GOP happy. For the majority that are pro-mask and worry about the virus, he can point to Florida’s record and show that its epidemic wasn’t disastrous despite the fears early on about how a state with a big population of senior citizens might fare. For the others, the more vaccine-skeptical, he can point to stuff like this as evidence that he respects their position and is on their side, in a way. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, you should have the same right to bring your COVID germs into a public indoor space as a COVID-free vaccinated person does.