What a relief that at least a few of us are getting the coronavirus vaccine. I would have liked my arm to have been among the select few. I’ll wait patiently, however, comforted in knowing that with every passing week, the list of Americans threatened by this nasty, deadly virus will shrink and life will return to normal.
But the interim should be quite interesting. There’s talk of COVID-19 vaccine passports — offering proof that you’ve been immunized and, therefore, no longer a virus threat to others. This form of ID might qualify you for admission into a crowded restaurant, theater or stadium.
Or a seat on an airplane. United, JetBlue and Lufthansa are working on a health passport app called CommonPass that would verify coronavirus test results and, eventually, your vaccinations. Flash your smartphone app at the gate and you’re on.
Ooh, boy. Time for Q and A.
Q: Would such certification systems be fair?
A: They will try to be. For example, those without smartphones could print their confirmation codes at home and present the paper at the airport, as they do with paper boarding passes.
The young will be last in line to get shots. Do they have to stay home while their grandparents jet off to beach vacations? As noted, the app could also include results of recent coronavirus tests. Granted, having a swab stuck up your nose every time you want to fly may be more of a burden than getting a shot, but this is a temporary situation. Happily, there are rapid-testing centers at many airports.
Q: I’m against vaccines, and I won’t get them. How dare you deny me access to schools, transportation and other public establishments?
A: People who pose risks to others can be kept apart. Most schools already mandate that students be vaccinated for a variety of diseases. And many countries won’t issue a visa without proof of vaccination against yellow fever.
And there’s always plan B. You can just keep taking the coronavirus test over and over again. Or charter a private jet to fly you somewhere they’ll let you in.
Q: Isn’t this a massive invasion of privacy?
A: Massive is an exaggeration. We drivers carry licenses disclosing our age and weight and featuring the most unflattering headshot the DMV can capture. We just do it.
There’s a parallel here to the debate over Real ID. Remember that? Real ID is a super-secure driver’s license. The photos are taken with facial recognition technology. Come Oct. 1, 2021, a Real ID-compliant driver’s license or ID will be required to board a plane (though a passport will also do).
Real ID was very controversial at first. The American Civil Liberties Union complained that while “ostensibly aimed at improving driver’s license security, its actual effect is to turn those same licenses into national ID cards.”
But when it comes to national ID, Americans are hardly virgins. Social Security numbers are a form of national ID, as are passports. The only difference between a Real ID driver’s license and the old kind is that the old kind can be counterfeited.
Q: Aren’t you being too dismissive of these concerns?
A: As I see it, the choice is either this or letting more businesses, jobs and people die. The fear alone has been killing businesses. Restrictions on gatherings have also hurt them, but I’ve been willing to go along to corner this monster virus.
If the vaccine helps lift these controls and fear over time, let’s push it. Proof that customers are inoculated will get a robust reopening on a roll.
Last Q: Can we expect a lot more objections to vaccine passports?
A: You can bet on it.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.