As tens of millions are vaccinated against Covid-19, officials from places as diverse as New York state, Israel and China have introduced “vaccine passports” and there is talk of making them universal. The idea is simple: once you have received your shots, you will get a document or a phone application, which will flash to access previously closed places: restaurants, theaters, sports stadiums, offices, schools.
It sounds like a way to ease coercive lockdown restrictions, but it’s the opposite. To see why, consider dining. Restaurants in most of the US have already reopened, with limited capacity in some places. A vaccine passport ban entry of potential clients who have not received their vaccines. It would restrict the freedom of even those who have: If you are vaccinated but your spouse is not, forget about dining out as a couple.
Planes and trains, which have continued to operate during the pandemic, would suddenly be out of reach of the unvaccinated. The only places where restrictions would be relatively eased would be those that are still completely closed, such as many live event venues and schools. Yet even there, the passport idea hinges on keeping the underlying restrictions in place, giving officials an incentive to do so for much longer as a lever to overcome vaccine resistance.
Therefore, the vaccine passport should not be understood as a relaxation of restrictions, but as a coercive scheme to promote vaccination. These measures may be legitimate: many schools require immunization against common childhood diseases, and visitors from some African countries must be vaccinated against yellow fever. But Covid vaccine passports would harm, not benefit, public health.
The idea that everyone needs to be vaccinated is as scientifically unfounded as the idea that no one does. Covid vaccines are essential for the elderly, at high risk and their caregivers, and are recommended for many other people. But those who have been infected are already immune. Young people are at low risk, and children, for whom no vaccine has been approved anyway, have a much lower risk of death than from the flu. If the authorities demand vaccination of those who do not need it, the public will begin to question vaccines in general.