As the world begins to consider life returning to “normal” after over a year of pandemic restrictions and protocols, governments and businesses are trying to determine what “normal” will look like. Will travelers be required to present “vaccine passports” to board a plane or cruise ship? Will those same passports be required to get a beer at the local pub or bar? Will it be required to buy groceries? Go to a ballgame?
Governor Ron DeSantis has said repeatedly that in Florida that answer is “No.” He is planning to sign an executive order prohibiting vaccine passports and has asked for legislation to do the same.
“It’s completely unacceptable for government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to simply be able to participate in normal society,” DeSantis said at a press conference Monday. “If you want to go to a movie theater or one of our theme parks, should you have to show that? No.”
Critics questioned why DeSantis and others against vaccine passports would restrict businesses’ ability to protect employees and customers against the coronavirus by ordering such a ban.
Mac Stipanovich, a Tallahassee consultant and outspoken former Republican, now Independent, called the ban “ridiculous on its face” in an Orlando Sentinel story.
“Can you use your concealed weapons permit and walk onto a Disney property?” Stipanovich asked. “Can you go into the Magic Kingdom carrying your gun? No. … In Florida the law allows you to have a permit, but private property rights trump that. There’s plenty of restaurants and bars and all sorts of businesses in Florida [that state] ‘No shoes, no shirt, no service,’ because that’s their private property. How the hell is Ron DeSantis going to tell Disney that they can’t require vaccination passports should they want to do so?”
During a March 18 health roundtable hosted by DeSantis, he and his panelists explained why he would order a ban.
Requiring residents to show proof of vaccinations, whether through a smartphone app or another form, will disproportionately affect those from minority and impoverished populations, according to DeSantis.
“I think that impacts particularly disadvantaged people in a way that would really be negative for our state,” the governor said.
His panelists agreed.
Dr. Martin Kulldorff, PhD, biostatistician, epidemiologist, and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School said, ““One of the basic principles of public health is trust. To demand vaccinations…that increases the skepticism towards vaccines.”
Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, professor of medicine at Stanford University, explained that the poor, blue collar workers and minorities were the most likely to catch the virus and the least likely to want the vaccine.
He said, “and then to tell them they have to have the vaccination to participate in American life? It’s going be a new vaccine Jim Crow and is huge, huge mistake that is just morally wrong.”
But some say having proof of vaccination for travel is nothing new.
Florida International University infectious-diseases professor Dr. Aileen Marty told the Broward Palm Beach New Times, “The idea of there being diseases that we want to check whether you’re immunized against is nothing new. We had that for smallpox. We still have it for yellow fever in many countries.”
The International Air Travel Association, an airline lobby group, has already developed an app called Travel Pass that would allow international travelers to show proof of vaccination and fly to countries with strict COVID restrictions. A number of foreign airlines that travel out of Miami International Airport are already testing Travel Pass, including Virgin Atlantic and Qatar Airways, according to the New Times.
Europeans are divided on the question of vaccine passports. Tourist-dependent Mediterranean countries like Greece, Spain and Croatia love the idea. But their northern neighbors, including Belgium, Germany and France, are a bit more wary, according to a story by NPR.
But international travel is only part of a much larger discussion about vaccine passports. Some countries, like Israel, have already introduced similar certificates to let people who have been vaccinated into bars, restaurants and shops.
“But that’s going too far,” Fred Monnier, who runs a small cafe in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, told NPR.
He said, “For travel, for business, no worries. It will reopen the markets. And you always have to show a passport when you travel. But when you buy a baguette, you know, it’s something. It’s privacy.”
Ella Jakubowska of the Brussels-based nonprofit European Digital Rights told NPR the passports could encourage discrimination.
She said, “There are some people who can never be vaccinated, immunocompromised people, people with certain allergies. And the idea that we would permanently shut those people out of our society is really not an acceptable thought.”
This echoed comments made by one of DeSantis’ healthcare panelist, Dr. Sunetra Gupta, epidemiologist and professor of theoretical epidemiology, Oxford University. She said the “concept is morally abhorrent” and explained that by limiting travel and dining, lodging etc. to only those who are vaccinated is discriminating against those who are usually poorer or minorities who won’t get the vaccine or those who are allergic to the vaccines or have other health issues that prevent them from getting it.