Debating those who think immunity passports should be the new normal

The debate over immunity passports is already heating up on social media. Since I published an article on the plan that’s about to go into effect in New York State, I’ve received all manner of feedback from those who agree with the plan and others who, like me, find this to be the beginning of an Orwellian horror show. Here’s one example of the latter.

Before getting to the current debate, I’ll just drop in another reminder of what I predicted back in December of last year on this subject. Sometimes I hate it when I’m right.

Moving on. One person who read my screed and definitely disagreed with me was Doctor James Joyner at Outside the Beltway. I’ve always liked and respected James. He’s a smart guy with a bit of a libertarian bent, so I was a bit surprised to see his take on this issue. But since many of us will likely be having this debate in the near future, I wanted to take a look at a couple of the points he made in response to my article and address them. His first point, however, truly rang hollow for me.

But here’s the thing: it’s not that those without the passport are being denied access to activities but that those with it are being allowed to do things they weren’t before. Take the wedding receptions case. Under current guidelines, most states, including New York, have restrictions for large gatherings of people owing to the pandemic. The creation of this pass allows those who wish to do so to bypass these restrictions.

Make sure that you read that brief passage carefully before proceeding. Maybe one of you will see something that I’m just missing. James is saying that those without a passport are not “being denied access.” Those with a passport are “being allowed to do things they weren’t before.” I’m still scratching my head over this one, but allow me to take a shot at it.

Let’s compare this situation to a scenario where there is an island suffering under famine conditions where everyone is starving. Then a government representative comes along and gives out magical cards to half of the population who were able to complete some government-mandated task. The card opens the door to an all-you-can-eat buffet. The remaining people, many of whom were unable to even get a chance to attempt the task, and others who refused, are, under James’ explanation, being told not to worry. It’s okay. You were already starving anyway, so nothing has changed. That sounds like a good way for a government representative to be ejected from the island by way of a plank over a shark-infested lagoon.

Also, even if we’re only looking at the optics here, I’ve seen the demo images of how the app functions. You wave your phone at the scanner and if you have a valid passport, a green check mark pops up and you’re allowed in. If not, a big red “X” appears and you are informed that you need to move along. I don’t know about you, but that certainly sounds like you’re being “denied access” to me.

As to the issue of who can or can’t be vaccinated and qualify for this wonderful government “gift,” James raises another point about access.

As best I can determine, the only people currently not recommended to get the vaccine are those “with a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to any component of the COVID-19 vaccine” and children under 16. But the creation of this passport doesn’t change what they’re allowed to do; it merely frees those with it to do things they can’t do now.

The website that James is citing in saying that only people who have a history of severe allergic reactions are suggested not to get the shot is from Yale University. And it’s true that people who are subject to anaphylactic shock, particularly those with shellfish allergies, are being steered away. But when you check in with the CDC, that’s not the end of the list. People with autoimmune conditions and compromised immune systems are being told that there is no data from the trials to indicate that the vaccine won’t have a negative impact and they should consult their doctors before proceeding. The same goes for people with a history of serious respiratory ailments. If they consult their doctor and are told that there’s a chance this could go badly, do you think they’re going to whistle a merry tune on their way down to get a jab? That list is adding up to a lot of people already. What about them?

James’ answer for those unfortunate souls is the same as in his previous point. Don’t worry. The lack of a passport doesn’t change what you’re allowed to do, it merely frees those with it to do things they can’t do now. So we’re back to the isle of famine analogy.

James makes what is perhaps his strongest point when he next addresses the vaccine-hesitant among the population. It essentially boils down to the (accurate) assessment that if we’re all living under and playing by the same rules, you are free to make the choice not to get vaccinated. But that choice will have consequences. And if that choice leads to you becoming a second-class citizen, “that’s just too damn bad.”

As to those who simply refuse to get the vaccine? They have the right to make that choice. But they don’t have a right to get others sick or impose other negative externalities on others. Since vaccinated people are still required to wear a mask, socially distance, and take all manner of other precautions against the virus around people who aren’t vaccinated, that’s a hell of a negative externality. To the extent that makes vaccine-hesitant folks “second-class citizens,” that’s just too damn bad. Choices come with consequences.

I agree, as should all responsible adults, that choices have consequences in life, as do actions. If the government manages to jam through a program like this and make it permanent, there will be consequences for those who are considered safe to receive the vaccine and choose not to do so. But in a scenario where the consequences under discussion come in the form of government actions against citizens, there’s another layer to that onion. The government can only expert that type of power over you if we collectively allow them to do so. Your recourse at that point comes at the ballot box. And if this game runs the course that I’m expecting it to, you’ll want to keep that very much in mind.