Your Papers, Please
There’s been a lot of chatter about the possibility governments could require a kind of vaccination passport that would help speed the nation’s reopening.
The Biden administration is reportedly trying to come up with some sort of standard for such passports, as a slew of alternative approaches and varying technologies are being tested.
But here’s the thing…if such passports become mandates for people to do much of anything – from going to a movie to taking a flight – then resistance will become a real and potent issue. So much so it would very likely undermine whatever benefits passport proponents are trying to achieve.
There’s also a deeply rooted fear that once government decides it can mandate passports showing vaccination against a particular virus, it could do so for a host of others. States already do just that. They set vaccine requirements for kids to attend school. States also issue mandates that you carry proof of car insurance, your registration, and license, to drive and many require a valid form of ID to vote.
There are the more rigorous requirements for Real ID licenses that you must show before you can board a domestic flight or gain access to some federal facilities. And there are also the more familiar requirements for passports used for international travel…plus the “passports” long required for travel to certain parts of the world showing vaccination against yellow fever and other diseases.
There are many more. The bottom line: governments already require a host of documents, with a plethora of personal data that must be carried at all times, or produced on request.
Do we need another specifically for the coronavirus? Cato’s Jeffrey Miron and Erin Partin write:
…some might argue that mandating vaccine passports is good policy. But just because something is “good” does not mean the government should subsidize or require it. A government‐mandated vaccine passport will generate hostility and backlash – as the debate over mask mandates illustrates. Voluntary, private adoption, in contrast, will generate acceptance and innovation, or simply fade away, depending on whether the passports turn out not to be useful.
Tyler Cowen says such passports wouldn’t work because of the thicket of issues involved in creating one:
…how would the passport reflect any new vaccines deemed necessary? What if new Covid-19 strains require booster shots? What if you’ve had Covid and thus get only one shot for now rather than two, as many experts are recommending? What will happen as the number of vaccines around the world proliferates? Given the slowness of the FDA and CDC, it is hard to imagine any new U.S. approvals coming quickly. A vaccine passport system could end up being fetters not only for foreigners and anti-vaxxers but also for vaccinated Americans.
And J.D. Tuccille writes that government being government, the original purpose of any vaccine passport (which he believes is both inevitable and too late) will expand:
Having already expanded beyond air travel to encompass access to sports and concert arenas, it’s easy to see COVID-19 being only the first entry in credentials designed to be scalable. They can all be easily tweaked to record conformity with any imaginable public health requirement. Underground entrepreneurs certainly anticipate a large role for such documents—they’ve established a brisk business selling bogus vaccine certificates to buyers unable or unwilling to secure the real thing.
There’s also a case for some optimism…that as more people get vaccinated, and the resistance to vaccines recedes, passports become irrelevant.