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Those immunity passports just aren't catching on

For quite a while after the vaccines were approaching approval, immunity passports were all the rage among politicians and media talking heads. And that wasn’t just true in the United States. It’s been a global phenomenon, particularly in Europe where they are essentially mandatory for travel these days. But at home in the USA? Not so much. A lot of work went into developing such systems and there were pilot programs being tested all over the country, or so it seemed. But now that the economy is reopening and people want to get back to their normal lives, there are only a handful of places where such systems are required by law. Far more states have actually gone in the other direction and banned the mandatory use of such passports. The Associated Press talked to some business owners in New York City and other locations, asking them if they are requiring proof of vaccination. The majority said no and mostly for the same reason. People hate the idea and it would kill business.

Customers wanting to wine, dine and unwind to live music at the City Winery’s flagship restaurant in New York must show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination to get in. But that’s not required at most other dining establishments in the city. And it’s not necessary at other City Winery sites around the U.S.

If City Winery tried doing such a thing at its places in Atlanta and Nashville, “we would have no business, because so many people are basically against it,” said CEO Michael Dorf.

Across the U.S., many hard-hit businesses eager to return to normal have been reluctant to demand proof of vaccination from customers. And the public and the politicians in many places have made it clear they don’t care for the idea.

It’s not that the technology doesn’t exist or doesn’t work. (Aside from the fact that it’s so easy to spoof a vaccine passport.) It’s just that people really don’t like this idea and a lot of politicians have been savvy enough to figure that out.

As of this month, only one state, Hawaii, has a legal requirement of this type. Travelers must upload a photo of their Hawaii vaccination document prior to setting foot in the state or face a ten-day quarantine. But once you’re safely on the beach, there are plenty of places that you can enter without showing it again.

New York and Louisiana developed and deployed digital vaccination passports earlier this year and California launched theirs a few weeks ago. But none of those states mandate the use of the system in order to gain access to either public or private-sector activities. It’s left up to the businesses as to whether or not they want to make that a requirement for entry. And very few bars and restaurants are making that choice when their competitors down the block are not.

In contrast to that, 18 states with Republican governors and/or legislative majorities have banned the use of immunity passports. Most have also forbidden businesses from asking for proof of vaccination as a condition of entry. Even speaking as someone who has been a staunch opponent of immunity passports since well before the first one was rolled out, I don’t really agree with those sorts of restrictions. They can do it for government buildings and public spaces, certainly. But should conservative leaders really be forbidding private business owners from requiring proof of vaccination? We let them enforce dress codes, right? Isn’t this a problem that would be best sorted out by the free market? If people don’t want to show a passport they simply won’t patronize the business. That’s how I’ve been making my shopping decisions where possible, particularly when it comes to masking requirements. And if enough people make the choice not to participate, the question will be moot because the business will close.

In a broader sense, that seems to be what’s happened across the United States. We didn’t need to wait for a chance to go to the polls to settle this question. Public polling told the politicians all they needed to know and the business community has spoken quite clearly about it. This wasn’t going to fly, and any autocrats who tried to mandate such things were going to be out of a job before long. Heck, even Andrew Cuomo didn’t have the cojones to try it in New York, even after they developed the Excelsior Pass. (It’s still available, but it’s not mandatory.)

So it appears that much of my concern over the ominous future we would be living in under an immunity passport system didn’t come to pass and it’s looking like it probably won’t. And for once, I am utterly thrilled to have been wrong about this one.