Commercial immunity passports are already losing their teeth

(AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

The next phase of the public debate over the idea of immunity passports or vaccination passports seems to be shaping up fairly quickly. While there are definitely people in favor of such plans, there’s been growing opposition as well. Governmental adoption of formal systems along these lines has so far been confined to blue states for the most part, with more conservative leaders as well as the federal government (perhaps surprisingly) taking more of a hands-off approach, if not barring the idea completely. (Florida has already banned vaccine passports, along with a few other places.)

The real battleground seems to be unfolding in the private sector. Individual businesses and entire industries have been attempting to adopt to the pandemic in varying degrees, with some being far more enthusiastic than others. USA Today took a deep dive into the topic this week and found a wide range of responses to the idea. They checked in with Rachael Piltch-Loeb, a research scientist at NYU School of Global Public Health, who feels that we’re heading toward a patchwork approach to immunity passports, with some industries being committed to the idea and others trying to avoid the topic as much as possible.

International travel, schools, colleges, some workplaces and some large events likely have an interest in keeping vaccine rates high and are prime areas for vaccine verification, Piltch-Loeb says.

Retail, restaurants, and other daily activities are less likely to require vaccine verification, she said.

Such businesses generally don’t want to act as a “vaccine bouncer,” Piltch-Loeb said…

In general, there’s little appetite in the public health community for a future where an app-based passport, possibly controlled by a tech company, would regulate Americans’ ability to do everyday activities like go to a grocery store.

That sounds about right to me. The airline industry, in conjunction with the TSA, will likely keep expanding its use of the current passport system, particularly for international travel. Similarly, cruise lines are already moving to make some proof of vaccination mandatory, likely to avoid crippling lawsuits if another ship turns into a voyage of the damned such as we saw at the beginning of the pandemic.

At the other end of the scale, we see large retail giants already bailing out on the idea of having to play the role of “vaccine bouncers,” as Pitch-Loeb put it. Both Trader Joe’s and Walmart announced this week that vaccinated customers would be able to shop without a mask. But neither of them plans on requiring customers to provide any proof of vaccination. So if they see a shopper without a mask, they’re just going to assume that they are vaccinated, making the entire requirement rather pointless.

The passport enthusiasts such as the cruise lines and airlines are having a harder time building a bulletproof system than anyone anticipated, however, and may eventually have to scrap the plan anyway. The problem is that there is no federally sanctioned, central database tracking who is or isn’t vaccinated. And there are no plans to attempt to create one due to concerns over the potential leaking of people’s personal healthcare data. That means that they are forced to rely on paper copies of vaccination records, such as the CDC cards that are easily faked. You can also buy a negative COVID test record online for as little as twenty dollars.

The one interesting part of this debate that I wanted to touch on is the way that it seems to have quickly broken down into a red state versus blue state standoff. USA Today spoke to one healthcare industry lobbyist who pointed this out. Blue state liberals are, as the lobbyist said, more accepting of “collective action,” changing their behavior for what they claim is “the common good.” But conservatives tend to see such intrusive policies as a threat to individual liberties and equality.

So even if we largely wipe out the virus and put the pandemic behind us, we’ll probably be left with remnants in the system that further divide the nation along partisan lines. If you want the government and even private industry to regulate your healthcare choices and control your movement, you may be even more inclined to move to a blue state. If you prefer to leave such choices up to the individual without restricting people’s freedom of movement, you may want to consider moving to Texas or Florida, along with other states currently cracking down on the idea of immunity passports.