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Athens News Matters: Vaccine Passports

Rae Cook/Axios

The debate over the vaccine passport is heating up as one in four American adults have been fully vaccinated and availability will soon be open to all adults. State and world leaders have taken a stance, including the Biden administration when it said it would not support a federal vaccine passport, and instead, leaving it up to states and the private sector to develop their own.

Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp is among the list of governors who will not support a federal vaccine passport. On April 6th, Gov. Kemp tweeted he “does not and will not support any kind of state-mandated vaccine passports.” He said the decision to be vaccinated should be left up to individuals.

There are legitimate concerns about a vaccine passport system that might deny entry to some and not to others, according to Fazal Khan, associate professor of law at the University of Georgia.

“For example, if it’s a business that’s deemed to be essential, such as a grocery store, we might have to think whether or not we want them to be using these vaccine credentials or passports,” said Khan.

On a global scale, the World Health Organization is concerned about a few things in regard to the vaccine passport. One is the uncertainty over whether inoculation prevents transmission of the virus. Another concern is the global inequities in vaccine distribution.

“In some of the low-income countries, there’s very few people being vaccinated. It’s unlike the United States, unlike European countries, unlike China; they are vaccinating millions of the population,” said Adam Chen, associate professor in the department of Health Policy and Management in the College of Public Health at UGA. “So, there are unequal distribution of the COVID-19 vaccination and that may make it worse in terms of the economic revival.”

Potentially adding to global inequities is the question over which vaccines will be deemed acceptable.

“We also don't have agreement on what shots would count. Is it okay if you got… the AstraZeneca, the Sputnik V shot from Russia, the Sinovac shot from China because you were working overseas,” said Arthur Caplan, Mitty Professor of Bioethics at New York University School of Medicine.

This probably won’t be an issue within the US, according to Caplan, because American-developed vaccine passports will likely accept a vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Overall, there is less concern from these experts about inequities in the US, as we start to get a handle on the vaccine rollout.

“It's become a lot easier, more available. And so that assuages some of my equity concerns that you know, some people don't have access to it, we don't have that problem here in the US. Internationally, we do,” said Khan.

For Khan, who said earlier that he was concerned about essential businesses limiting entry, there is less concern about the use of vaccine passports in nonessential businesses, like going to a Braves’ game.

“I think it's highly appropriate that they can have this requirement, same way that private businesses can say no shoes, no shirts, no service. I think, you know, legally, they have the right to say no vaccination status, we're not going let you into this crowded place where you might be a threat to others,” said Khan.

Perhaps the biggest reason to consider the vaccine passport is simple. It could allow us to get back into the world, boost the economy, and reinvigorate national and international cultural and scientific exchanges.

“It would really just make people feel safe enough to go back to see a concert or show up at a sporting event and sit next to one another…” said Caplan. “I think the pros of vaccine passports are they give more freedom of movement, freedom of association.”

Alexia Ridley joined WUGA as Television and Radio News Anchor and Reporter in 2013. When WUGA TV concluded operations, she became the primary Reporter for WUGA Radio. Alexia came to Athens from Macon where she served as the News Director and show host for WGXA TV. She's a career journalist and Savannah native hailing from the University of Michigan. However, Alexia considers herself an honorary UGA DAWG!
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