Premium

Fauci: I doubt we'll see a federal mandate for vaccine passports -- but we might see local ones

It’s nice to hear him say this. But, you know, Fauci says a lot of things. If he could reverse on masks and he could reverse on the threshold needed for herd immunity, why wouldn’t he reverse on federal vaccine passports?

The CDC is still dictating rules barring evictions a year into the pandemic, no? The feds can do a lot of things in an emergency that you might not have thought they had the power to do.

It’s an open question to me whether they’d have the power to do this, though. They can require immunizations by foreigners as a condition to entering the United States; countries routinely insist upon certain shots for travelers before visiting. But I don’t know that they could require it of American citizens traveling domestically. Maybe Congress would have power under the Commerce Clause to make vaccine passports a prerequisite of traveling by air, but that’s academic since there’s no chance a federal vaccine passport mandate would beat a filibuster in the Senate. Biden could possibly use his executive authority to require vaccination before flights, just as he used it to require masks for all passengers. But a vaccine is intrusive in a way that a mask isn’t. One wonders what a court would do with the right of privacy and “bodily autonomy” in response to an executive vaccine passport order.

There’s another constitutional right at stake when Americans cross state lines, the so-called right to travel. Would an executive order limiting air travel to people with vaccine passports unduly burden that right? You can always drive to get where you want to go, after all.

Anyway, it’s probably a moot question. Probably.

“I doubt that the federal government will be the main mover of a vaccine passport concept,” he said. “They may be involved in making sure things are done fairly and equitably, but I doubt if the federal government is gonna be the leading element of that.”

Fauci said “individual entities,” such as theaters and universities, might take the lead on vaccine requirements and implement their own policies.

“I’m not saying that they should or that they would, but I’m saying you could foresee how an independent entity might say, ‘Well, we can’t be dealing with you unless we know you’re vaccinated,’ ” Fauci said. “But it’s not going to be mandated from the federal government.”

He speculated that we might see vaccine passports required “on the local level” and in some school districts, mindful that certain routine vaccinations are typically required of children as a condition of enrollment. If true, that means we’re headed for the same two-tiered system nationally on vaccine passports as we experienced with other COVID restrictions during the later stages of the pandemic. Red states will oppose passports as an infringement on liberty and privacy to signal their commitment to reopening, as Ron DeSantis has already done, whereas blue states/counties will encourage them as a way to signal their commitment to public safety and as an inducement to holdouts to get vaccinated.

At least, for awhile they will. Liberal pro-passport jurisdictions will quickly run into “equity” concerns:

A very appealing vision for some could turn into a dystopian nightmare for millions. Such restrictive passports could mean being locked out of your job, education, or even the ability to shop for food. At a moment when vaccine distribution is highlighting inequalities both locally and internationally, when communities of color and lower-income communities are being systematically underserved, vaccine passports would amplify our medical segregation.

Suddenly, Black and Latinx Americans might not just see themselves being excluded from vaccine queues, but from nearly every aspect of public life. And at a time when one in five Americans lack a smartphone, and many others use devices too old to support such an app, we would likely see millions of vaccinated Americans wrongfully blocked from public spaces.

Democratic governments are going to go wobbly as soon as the first pieces about passports returning some black Americans to second-class citizenship get written. As for private entities requiring passports, I continue to believe that only the most safety-conscious business owners will prioritize vaccination over profits to be made on unvaccinated customers. To change that calculus, there would need to be a meaningful number of vaccinated customers who refuse to patronize an establishment if they’re letting unvaccinated people in. But how likely is that? How many immunized Americans eager to get back to normal will shun on principle shops and restaurants that admit the unvaccinated, even though they’re personally protected from infection?

Look at it this way. The whole point of herd immunity is to reduce the prevalence of the virus to the extent that even unvaccinated people can operate safely in society, without much risk of infection, right? Well, then, why would we bar the unvaccinated from common spaces? We might do it for a few months near term, when there’s still a huge share of the population that hasn’t had a chance to get inoculated, but why do it once we’ve hit 80 percent or whatever? We don’t want our unimmunized countrymen to conclude that they need to isolate forever.

We want those paranoid anti-vax weirdos to live their lives again too.

I’ll leave you with this clip, which feels like it was recorded a decade ago but was actually filmed at the Texas Rangers’s home opener today. Texas is allowing full capacity just for this game, I believe. Yesterday the state recorded 1,117 cases — the lowest number since May 2020.