Editorial: No to mandating vaccine passports

©Chicago Tribune

OPED-CORONAVIRUS-VACCINE-PASSPORTS-EDITORIAL-LA. - Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS

The COVID-19 vaccines have been a gift from science to control the worst health pandemic in a century. Developed and deployed in less than year, they have become a potent weapon against an unpredictable virus. But their success raises a question: Under what circumstances might Americans be required to show proof of immunization?

The city of Chicago is exploring the idea of a “Vax Pass,” particularly for younger people, which would be required as proof of immunization before they’d be allowed into certain venues, such as concerts. The passes might be applied toward preferred seating to encourage more people to get vaccinated.

“You get a vaccine, you’ll be able to get into a concert or get into an event,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said recently. “(We’re) really thinking, particularly for younger people, how can we make vaccine something that people are excited about getting?”

The city and other governmental bodies can and should continue to educate the public on the need to get immunized. But it would be a bad idea and raise serious privacy concerns if governments required proof of immunization to access public venues or spaces. The public should be permitted, as always, to visit parks, libraries, the lakefront, plazas, government buildings and more without flashing a proof card. The city should take a hard pass on a “Vax Pass.”

That said, private companies, including concert hosts and sports teams, should be free to make their own decisions. They can enforce vaccine verification if they choose. And if you disagree with the policy, you’re free to skip that event and take your money elsewhere. Similarly, the virus-leery are free to avoid crowds that make them uncomfortable.

In announcing the return of the Chicago Auto Show in July, city officials on Tuesday said no vaccine proof would be required to attend, but masks will be enforced and crowds will be limited. The issue would be slippery for events such as Lollapalooza, if it returns this summer or fall, which is operated by a private entity but occupies a public park.

Bottom line: Barring illegal discrimination, the city should not force its citizens to disclose whether they’ve been vaccinated in order to access public venues. And government shouldn’t tell businesses who they must or must not serve or employ.

So far, 100 million Americans are fully vaccinated, and half of adults have gotten at least one dose. All adults are now eligible, and abundant supplies have made it much easier to get the shots.

New cases and deaths have declined, both nationally and in Illinois. Experts think that thanks to vaccinations, the country is at or near the turning point in suppressing the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued new guidelines, which say that fully vaccinated people can dispense with masks when outdoors, except in crowds, as well as indoors among others who are fully vaccinated.

They also can be indoors without masks with unvaccinated people who are not at high risk for severe COVID-19 disease. These are welcome bench marks.

Hardly had the idea of vaccines passports arisen than Florida enacted a law forbidding businesses, schools and government bodies from adopting such policies. Several other governors have issued executive orders to the same effect. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration “is not now, nor will be, supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker would like to provide a way for Illinoisans to confirm they’ve been vaccinated but said, “it’s not something that we would require.”

That’s a better, more hands-off approach. For one, there is no trustworthy method for people to prove they’ve been immunized. The documents furnished by providers could be forged, allowing unvaccinated people to get around the mandate and giving vaccinated ones a false sense of security.

Nor are access problems solved. Vaccination rates are much higher among Chicago’s white residents than among African Americans. Families without internet access are at a disadvantage in trying to get appointments and may not find out about pop-up sites. They should not be punished due to lack of access.

There’s actually a good chance requiring a vaccine passport would provoke more resistance, not participation. At this point, public health officials should continue to concentrate on addressing the concerns of people who are reluctant about the vaccine, while making it as easy as possible for those want it to get it. That approach has been working: Vaccine hesitancy has declined over the past few months, without mandates.

For the better part of the past year, cities and states had little choice but to issue some mandatory rules to combat COVID-19. With so many Americans achieving immunity, there is less justification for compulsory requirements that would alienate reluctant people. Educating the public about the vaccines and facilitating shots, not issuing dictates, is the best way to combat the virus and build public trust.