The White House is clearly nervous.
“The administration does not and will not support a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Tuesday. “There will be no federal vaccine database or a federal mandate that requires everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”
Last week, the chief technology officer for the Department of Health and Human Services held a conference call with state and local health officials, who are puzzled by the administration’s reluctance.
“It will be necessary to have this and there will have to be some kind of system where it is verified,” said Dr. Marcus Plescia, medical director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “I think everyone in our network is a little stumped by how the federal government seems to measure up to this.”
Every state, in fact, already has a database or a “vaccination registry.” And under “data use agreements,” states must share their records with the CDC, although the agency de-identifies the information and not all states have agreed to provide it.
Politicians are already preparing for the fight.
On Sunday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said he opposes the idea of vaccine passports, and last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order prohibiting policies that require customers to provide any proof of vaccination. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has said his state will not participate in any vaccine passport programs.
Putting aside the political and cultural divide, vaccine passports raise overwhelming political, ethical and privilege issues.
In 1905, the Supreme Court ruled that states can enforce mandatory vaccination laws. “A community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease that threatens the safety of its members,” wrote Judge John Marshal Harlan in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the 1905 case. For more than a century, that ruling has allowed public schools to require proof of their students’ vaccinations, with some exceptions for religious objections.