7 Reasons Why a Vaccine Passport (Pass, Certificate or Whatever They Want to Call It) Should Give Us Pause

As the use of vaccine passports snowballs around the world, concerns about their potential reach and implications are growing.

Vaccine passports (or passes or certificates) are being rushed through around the world, including in places where most people have not even been able to get a vaccine yet. They are being touted as a way of jump-starting the global economy by providing a means for people to prove their vaccinated status, allowing them to travel, shop, go to the gym, attend sporting and cultural events and conduct other indoor activities. Countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore have already introduced vaccine passports in the last couple of months.

Of course, the use of the word “passport” is deceptive. “Passport” implies a document endorsed by a state that establishes citizenship and guarantees diplomatic protection. A traditional passport does not require the bearer to participate in a vaccine program, although immunity certificates have existed for diseases such as Yellow Fever. Another difference is that a vaccine passport is likely to come in the form of a digital document. The potential scope of its application is also far broader than that of a normal passport. It could be required not only to establish identity and vaccine status at national borders but also to travel, access public buildings and basic services within one’s own country of residence.

In countries that already have an established national health service, such as the UK and Israel, the vaccine passport has been mandated at state level. In the US tech and health-care companies are firmly in the driving seat. At least 17 alternative programs are currently under development. As for the EU, it has proposed issuing “digital green certificates” that would allow EU residents to travel freely across the 27-nation bloc by the summer as long as they have been vaccinated, tested negative for COVID-19 or recovered from the disease. It’s worth noting that the EU has been studying the feasibility of creating a common EU vaccination card since early 2019.

International Initiatives

There are also initiatives taking place internationally such as the Smart Vaccination Certificate Working Group, whose partners include WHO, UNICEF, ITU and the European Commission. The group “is focused on establishing key specifications, standards and a trust framework for a digital vaccination certificate to facilitate implementation of effective and interoperable digital solutions that support COVID-19 vaccine delivery and monitoring, with intended applicability to other vaccines.”

Another initiative is the CommonPass digital health app being developed by the Commons Project Foundation (CPJ), which was founded by the Rockefeller Foundation and is supported by the World Economic Forum. The CommonPass is both a framework and an app that “will allow individuals to access their lab results and vaccination records, and consent to have that information used to validate their COVID status without revealing any other underlying personal health information.”

Then there’s ID2020, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for digital IDs for the billion undocumented people worldwide and under-served groups like refugees. In 2019, ID2020 launched a new digital identity program in collaboration with the government of Bangladesh and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI). It is now involved in the Good Health Pass Collaborative, “an open, inclusive, cross-sector initiative, bringing together leading companies and organizations from the technology, health, and travel sectors”.

Pause for Thought

Some of these initiatives are already being piloted by companies, including airlines, and local or regional authorities. All Nippons Airways has started a test of the CommonPass on its flights from Tokyo Haneda to New York. Last week New York unveiled its Excelsior pass, which is based on technology from IBM. Other states are likely to follow suit. France has also just completed a month-long trial of a health passport app for Air France passengers travelling to Martninique and Guadeloupe.

The speed at which these initiatives are being rushed out should give pause for thought. Just as with contact tracing apps, the rollout is haphazard and rife with conflicts of interest. The technology is unproven and the privacy issues are glaring. Below are seven reasons why I believe vaccine passports should worry us. Perhaps you can think of more.

1. We still don’t know how effective or safe the vaccines are. The ostensible goal behind the vaccine passport is to provide proof that a person has taken an officially approved vaccine and therefore poses less of a contagion risk. Yet we still don’t know just how effective or safe each vaccine is. Naturally, the efficacy levels of each vaccine vary. As WHO itself concedes, there is still uncertainty over whether inoculation actually prevents transmission of the virus.

We also have no idea how long the immunity — partial or otherwise — provided by each vaccine lasts. What’s more, some of the vaccines appear to have reduced efficacy against some variants, including the B.1.351 strain (originally identified in South Africa).

It’s not just the potential lack of efficacy that should have us worried. There are also big safety concerns. Numerous adverse reactions have already been reported around the world. In the case of the vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, concerns about blood clotting side effects have led some countries to restrict or even suspend their use.

In the US, the latest VAERs data released on April 12 showed over 46,000 reports of adverse events following COVID vaccines. Women have been disproportionately affected, accounting for 77% of cases. Many are experiencing abnormal menstruation, raising fears that the vaccines could even affect fertility.   

2. Vaccine geopolitics. To all intents and purposes the West is already locked in a new cold war with China and Russia. Tensions are escalating on an almost daily basis. Against such a backdrop, it’s hardly beyond the realms of possibility that at some point down the line countries or companies in the West will refuse to recognise vaccines certificates that are based on Russian or Chinese vaccines, and vice versa. The justifications for doing so will grow as bad news continues to emerge about the efficacy and safety of vaccines.

Over the past weekend Western news sources reported that George Fu Gao, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Prevention and Control, had publicly acknowledged that Chinese-made vaccines currently offer low efficacy against the virus. “We will solve the issue that current vaccines do not have very high protection rates,” he said, adding that adjusting the dosage or sequential immunisation and mixing vaccines might boost efficacy.

Since then China has backtracked on the comments. But the episode nonetheless raises serious questions for those nations relying heavily on the Chinese jab, including many in Latin America. If Chinese vaccines are not as effective as originally thought, it’s perfectly feasible that some countries in the West will refuse to acknowledge vaccine passes sporting the name of a Chinese vaccine. As such, rather than freeing up global travel, vaccine passports could up erecting new barriers.

3. The potential for mission creep. To begin with, SMART Health Cards are likely to include a person’s complete name, gender, birth date, mobile phone number, and email address in addition to vaccination information. But although advertised as digital vaccination records, they are clearly intended to be used for much more. Public information on the protocol notes that SMART Health Cards are “building blocks that can be used across health care,” including managing a complete immunization record that goes far beyond COVID-19 vaccines, sharing data with public-health agencies, and communication with health-care providers.

The framework is unlikely to be limited to health-care information. The use of the term “digital wallet”, both by the Vaccine Collective Initiative and IBM, to refer to their different digital health passes suggests that economic activity could become an integral part of the frameworks’ functions. The developer of the Vaccine Collective Initiative’s SMART Health Cards framework at Microsoft Health, Josh C. Mandel, hinted in a recent YouTube presentation that SMART Health Cards could soon be used as IDs for commercial activity, such as renting a car.

That this is all happening as central banks around the world are busily laying the foundations for central bank digital currencies, or CBDCs as they’ve come to be known, raises the specter of digital vaccine passports being used as a vehicle for the creation of a purely digital currency system to replace physical coins and notes. That’s not to say this will happen but it is a possibility. If the vaccine passport does become a digital currency wallet and cash is eliminated, opting out will be much harder. And opting in will leave us subject to levels of surveillance and control that were heretofore unthinkable. 

4. Creating a two-tier society/world. Since its very inception Covid-19 has been a pandemic of inequality. This is particularly true in Israel, which was already a two-tier society long before Covid came along. It recently became the first country to launch a nationwide vaccine passport scheme, the so-called Green Pass. But its intended target is Israelis, not Palestinians. According to The Guardian, just over 4% of the 5 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip have so far received vaccines. Active Covid cases are back near historic highs while in the rest of Israel they are at their lowest level since last June.

Vaccine passports could end up exacerbating social divisions wherever they are used. Those who have access to vaccines can return to some semblance of normal life while those who don’t find themselves left even further out in the cold. This will happen not just within countries but between countries. As the Israeli economy reopens, Palestinians face arguably even more restrictions on their movement and activities than before Covid. But it’s not just Palestinians who are finding themselves being treated as second class citizens; so too are Israelis who refuse to take the vaccine, on religious, ethical or health grounds. Without Green Passes, they are unable to enter certain places or participate in certain activities.

Over time, as life gets more difficult for these people, the pressure to get the jab will grow. At least that’s what vaccine passport proponents like Joan Costa-Font of the London School of Economics are hoping.

“Vaccine passports can be used as an incentive to change behavior. They not only provide some direct benefits, but they signal what society expects from individuals. They exemplify a social norm that individuals are expected to comply with.”

But coercing people to take the vaccine could have the opposite effect, warns an opinion piece in the BMJ:

All in all, there are reasons to conclude that vaccine passports for basic activities may actually undermine vaccine rollout by disincentivising the very populations who most need incentivising. Closer inspection of the Israeli “green pass” scheme serves to reinforce this message. The evidence for passes increasing vaccination uptake is weak, while suspicions of compulsion and reports of people barred from workplaces for not being vaccinated have “resulted in antagonism and increased distrust among individuals who were already concerned about infringement on citizens’ rights.”

5. Loss of bodily autonomy and integrity. Forcing an experimental vaccine upon someone who doesn’t want it clearly contravenes their right to bodily autonomy and integrity.  According to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, “everyone has the right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity. In the fields of medicine and biology, the following must be respected in particular: the free and informed consent of the person concerned, according to the procedures laid down by law.”

If bodily autonomy and integrity are indeed fundamental human rights, then the issuance of COVID vaccine passports should hinge on the informed consent of the individual and not mandatory adoption, as has been proposed in France, or coercion (and yes, denying people access to basic services is a form of coercion). This is particularly true in the case of vaccines that are approved merely on an emergency use basis.

6. Most governments and tech giants have already shown they cannot be trusted with our most valuable data. Vaccine passports raise huge privacy concerns. Data-hungry companies like Microsoft, a member of the Vaccine Credential Initiative, will be given new opportunities to track our daily movements and activities and share that data with third parties. There are also major concerns about data security. If recent history has taught us anything, it is that no data — no matter how private or precious — is completely secure.

A vaccine certificate is likely to include our most precious data of all: our biometric data. And it is unlikely to be safe. As Peter Yapp, ex-deputy director of UK GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) recently warned, building yet another centralised database to store even more of our personal data would create even more opportunity for hackers and cyber criminal organizations to plunder our data:

“Centralised databases means you’re putting a lot of data in one place so it becomes an attractive target for hackers and the like so it’s like a honeypot – it attracts people in and they’re going to have a go because there is so much data…”

7. Whatever the politicians might say, a vaccine certificate will be permanent. When the vaccine certificate debate reached fever pitch in the UK last week the Conservative Party tried to assuage voter fears by insisting that the certificate would be temporary.

“It will be time limited and I think the duration of the scheme will be measured in months,” one unnamed insider said. “The party will not wear any longer.”

This is from the same government that publicly insisted for months that it was not even considering vaccine certificates while in private it was examining how they could be used. After going to all the trouble and expenditure to create a digital ID system whose applications and uses can be expanded at ease, there’s no way in the world that the UK government is going to just hand it all back a few months later. As history has taught us time and again, whenever governments reward themselves new temporary powers, they usually find it painfully hard to relinquish them. Such will no doubt be the case with the vaccine passport, pass, certificate or whatever they want to call it.

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  1. BrianM

    Interesting post. I think there’s a good case for temporary certificates in my ideal world. This would include equitable vaccine distribution, in which case they could be used as a bridge to allow an accelerated return to normality. Sadly we don’t live in an ideal world, so these concerns are valid. I think there’s a couple of other things:
    – the long-term effectiveness is uncertain, and we may enter a world where regular vaccinations are required. How do we handle that if everyone can get regular updates? How do we deal with it if they don’t?
    – vaccine certificates have been part of international travel, albeit a reducing one, for a long time. I have a yellow fever one and an (old) cholera one.
    – the lack of understanding that these are not sterilising vaccines and may only, at best, reduce transmission rather than stop it.

    1. vlade

      Your second point is also a counter-point to point 7 in the post. Yet, it’s not going to be months. But it will die out when CV becomes “normal”.

      For me, the main thing is not to let the techies have a go a this. Otherwise, it’s not really different from what already exists/existed.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I think that’s the key point – once it becomes part of an electronic chain it will almost certainly be misused.

        I really don’t see an objection though to an old style analogue card, signed by a doctor, with an expiratory date. I still have my yellow vaccination visa in a drawer somewhere. It could of course be forged, but given the uncertainty over the effectiveness of vaccines (I see the Chinese one is barely 50% effective), this is really all about minimizing risk, not providing some form of foolproof protection. The hassle of getting the card alone should be an effective way of discouraging unnecessary risks.

    2. Ignacio

      The yellow fever vaccine is well known to provide protection for ten years and it is good tool to prevent re-spread of the disease where it has been eradicated when you go back home and that is why the authorities ask for it. Now with widespread Covid everywhere, what is the point of the vaccine certificate? Unless you are travelling to or from a totally covid-free country, what is the point?

      1. Elizabeth Burton

        Because the intended goal is the same as for yellow fever. Doesn’t it strike you as the least bit odd that the mass of media coverage on this has mostly been about sneering at the people who oppose it rather than simply explaining what it is, why it matters, and who it will affect?

      2. Cuibono

        that IS the most cogent thing i have read about this. What IS the point?
        one can its role for a limited number of countries. Even there, given large swaths of the population without immunity, one wonders if 50-90% is really useful ?

      3. PlutoniumKun

        I would have thought that the key importance of vaccine passport is to stop the spread of the most dangerous new variants, in particular the Brazilian one.

    3. Armor

      Of course there will be more vaccines and regular experiments, it’s been planned for a long time.

    4. RebelHippie333

      Normality would return simply by doing away with the Covid Tests.
      There is no proof that the vax actually lowers transmission of Covid. It has been stated by every manufacturer of the vax.
      CDC has already advised people to continuing wearing masks, even after vax due to unknowns of transmission possibilities after vax.
      Telling someone they can not access basic services of everyday life unless they have been vaxxed is coercion.
      Coercion to vax is Globally Out-Lawed by Nuremberg.
      Covid vax is IND EUA authed only. Experimental vax can not be forced upon the people.
      To achieve true FDA Auth vax must undergo gold standard and be proven safe AND effective.
      Anything less, is violation of Human Rights under Nuremberg and punishable by Crimes Against Humanity penalties.

  2. voislav

    This really seems to be a British problem as many other countries require its citizens to have mandatory ID cards, which in many cases contain biometric data. I’ve had one in one of my countries since mid 2000s and it’s pretty convenient as it doubles as a passport for regional travel. I get it that British people are resistant to mandatory ID’s but if we look at the experience in other countries I would say that those fears are unfounded. Now Corbishley is not happy with the usual “ID cards are evil”, he veers dangerously into the conspiracy theory territory. A few points:

    He talks about government and tech companies tracking daily movements using these cards, but doesn’t explain at all how this would be done or even why would anyone bother with this when they can just track people’s cell phones instead.

    He also mentiones 46,000 adverse reactions to the vaccines and calls vaccines unproven. He fails to mention the rate of adverse effects (likely less than 0.1% of people) and that most of these are easily managed. Calling a vaccine unproven is false, they have been proven to be effective, what we don’t know is how long the immunity lasts. This is for a simple reason that first doses of the vaccine were administered last summer during Phase I/II testing, so not enough time has passed to test this.

    Using Israel/Palestine as the example of what society could become. Israel and Palestine are separate political entities, so that would be like saying that US society is vaccination-segregated because vaccination rates in Canada are much lower. There is plenty of examples of countries favouring their rich citizens for vaccinations, but Israel and Palestine is a very different situation and not something that is applicable.

    He goes on to tie this into central bank digital currencies, which makes no sense whatsoever. Existing currencies already exist in digital form and are not tied to cash, so government eliminating cash does not require a new digital currency.

    I am OK with reasonable argument, but this article is very selective with its facts and tries to dial the outrage meter to 11 by tossing in a bunch of unrelated things together. As I said before I get it, it’s the UK perspective, where ID cards are the scourge, but that’s no reason not to stick to facts.

    1. The Rev Kev

      ‘Israel and Palestine are separate political entities’

      I literally have no idea what you mean by this. This is like saying that the 120,000 Japanese internees in the US during WW2 were a separate political entity.

        1. The Rev Kev

          A longer comment went away but just ask yourself who controls the Palestinian borders, ports and other ways of entry and exit. If it is the Israelis, then there are no separate political entities and is merely an occupation.

      1. voislav

        Yes, Palestinians do not vote in Israeli elections and Israeli government does not consider them citizens. There is an international-like border between the two entities, there is no free movement of people and goods. It’s very different than class or economic segregation within a country.

    2. Steve

      “Existing currencies already exist in digital form”

      Yes, but have you tried settling your tax bill in these currencies? You can’t because they aren’t the sovereign currency.

      Do you understand what monopoly supply of currency by a state entails? Hence, in order to ratify and create demand for this currency, you must settle your tax bill in said currency.

      1. Basil Pesto

        “have you tried settling your tax bill in existing currencies” is that what you’re asking?

        I don’t think voislav is referring to cryptocurrencies, if that’s what you think. I think he’s referring to online banking (in USD, €, Lei, whatever)

      1. voislav

        Meaning that Palestinians have as much influence on Israeli politics and government as do Canadians on US government.

        1. ambrit

          Uh, but America does not “mow the lawn” regularly in Canada. If it tries, it most certainly will suffer a backlash, if not from the Canadian government, then from Canada’s people. (Imagine no more maple syrup crossing the border, or no more high skills hockey games on television.)

    3. Vladimir

      It’s not about having a vaccination passport for trips around the world. OK, you want to go to Africa, or to the Amazon Indians, so you have to be vaccinated. But the EU wants to introduce “Vaccination Passports” for all EU citizens as a discriminatory matter. Without the Vaccination Passport, you will not be able to buy, they will not let you into the office, into the pub, into the bank on the subway, etc. This is not democracy, but Aparheid I apologize for the bad English, but I’m Czech and English is not my native language.

  3. Lively

    5. Loss of bodily autonomy and integrity. Forcing an experimental vaccine upon someone who doesn’t want it clearly contravenes their right to bodily autonomy and integrity.

    Forcing an experimental vaccine upon somebody who doesn’t want it is a horrifying Nazi-level human rights violation.

    Requiring to be vaccinated for international travel is, dare I say, even sensible. I don’t even need to get into the misused “experimental” qualifier, international travel has always had requirements that restrict our personal freedoms in many, much more invasive, ways than simply requiring to be vaccinated. But we are talking international travel, not access to food, health, or housing. Nobody is forcing anybody to do anything, these are just rules of civil coexistence.

      1. Equitable > Equal

        It is in Europe. And these passes are being linked rapidly to access to in-person education, access to the workplace, access to specific public locations and access to basic services. In Ireland, they are even being linked to freedom of association – the Taoiseach has announced that only vaccinated people will be able to meet up, effective immediately. https://www.thejournal.ie/vaccination-plan-ireland-march-5395936-Mar2021/

        How do you think this vaccination status will be proven?

        1. vlade

          No, it isn’t, even in Europe. Despite popular “news”, travel can be, was, and even is in some cases, restricted in the EU. I cannot travel to Germany

          I can’t comment on Ireland, but somethign like that has been tried in other countries and fell short of courts pretty quick (with some exceptions related to knowing spread of communicable diseases, which are covered under criminal code and were covered under criminal before pandemic).

          And you’re misrepresengint the article. It doesn’t say that _only_ vaccinated people can meet (even now people can meet for certain reasons, like funerals and weddings), it relaxes certain restrictions on _some_ vaccinated people a bit earlier.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          Like a lot of Irish guidance and practice, is based on a sort of ‘lets rely on everyones goodwill’ and not on the legal niceties. An attempt by the Irish government to enforce vaccine passports on domestic social events would never survive a legal challenge.

          Having said that, and almost totally ignored in the discussions in Ireland, is that there are existing very strong, and incredibly restrictive laws on the books going back to TB days. Its quite possible to lock someone up indefinitely if they have certain diseases – so far as I know, these laws have never been challenged at the highest court level, but for obvious reasons they’ve been used sparingly. I know of one case of a woman with HIV induced dementia and TB who was locked in a secured hospital room indefinitely quite legally in order to protect her children (she refused to take precautions to stop her children getting infected). This was with the reluctant consent of her family. So the laws and practice exist, it is the fear of political backlash and the uncertainty of a Supreme Court judge that stops the government from using these laws with Covid.

          So in the Irish context, I think there will be a lot of ‘advice’ and ‘guidelines’ set out around Covid vaccines which will in practice never be formalised in law. Its a very Irish way of approaching difficult subjects, which would never fly in the more formalised Napoleonic codes in Europe.

    1. Nick Corbishley Post author

      Lively, this is not just about travel. If it was, I probably wouldn’t be worried and I wouldn’t have written this article. As Vlade says, unrestricted international travel is not a human right.

      But the scope of application of the vaccine passport is likely to be a great deal broader than a normal passport. In Israel a Green Pass holder is allowed to access many places others may not, including gyms, restaurants, theatres and cinemas, sporting venues, hotels, cultural events.


      1. vlade

        Don’t know how it’s in the UK, but here a knowing spread of a highly transmissionable disease is a crime. I see your point re creating two classes (vaccinated and not), but IMO as long as one can freely chose into which class they go (accepting the consequences), it’s fine.

        As I wrote elsewhere, here you may refuse vaccinations that are technically mandatory. But the conseqences is that if you get the disease-vaccinated-against, even in our nominally free healtcare , you get slapped with the bill.

  4. Don Cafferty

    In my small part of the world, maritime Canada, the spread of Covid-19 has been determined by Public Health Officers to be almost entirely/mostly travel related, not community spread. However, the new variants may now be causing community spread but their arrival is too new for certainty. The point is that some of us have only experienced Covid-19 because it involved travel. The hypothetical question is what happens if vaccine passports allow travellers to continue the spread of this virus or other contagions. Will there be a backlash against travellers and vaccine passports. At times during the past year, there has been strong sentiment expressed against travellers and in one particular case, the community ostracized the individual.

  5. Knifecatcher

    Looking solely at the technology / privacy elements of the problem I know of at least one effort to create a decentralized, secure wallet based vaccine passport controlled by the individual. It works something like this:

    – User downloads the secure wallet application onto their mobile device
    – Mobile app runs a user verification process by taking a selfie, then taking a photo of their government issued ID
    – Facial recognition built into the mobile app compares the selfie to the ID photo to confirm the user’s identity
    – User goes to get their shot and scans a QR code, which stores vaccination info on their mobile device
    – When entering a business / government facility / etc requiring proof of vaccination the user scans another QR code, which shares their vaccination status with the relevant organization.

    Note that this doesn’t require the creation of a centralized database, as all the relevant data is stored on the mobile device and controlled by the user. This technology exists today, and there’s an effort in place to drive states to adopt this approach rather than the centralized model. That’s also the biggest obstacle – having an enormous database of user information is valuable for tech companies, so most of the biggest names have a vested interest in driving a centralized approach.

    1. tegnost

      Note that this doesn’t require the creation of a centralized database, as all the relevant data is stored on the mobile device and controlled by the user

      Not everyone has a mobile device and many people don’t have one because they don’t want to be tracked. The phone is the centralizing item. It’s controlled by the user and whoever hacks into or has access to the phone. Have you ever heard of the NSA? Flora posted a link a while back of Snowden saying all you need is a phone number and you can get in.

    2. Laura in So Cal

      The ID.me system being used by many State Unemployment Insurance systems here in the US uses the first 3 methods on your list to try to verify identity. Here in California, we tried to get it to work for 2 weeks using 2 different browsers in January (3 months after it had been implemented) after my husband was laid off.

      We never could get it to work. It kept going into the circle of death whenever we tried to upload anything from my husband’s cell phone. In addition, we could never get any help with the issue although we tried several times. We ended up going the old fashioned paper route (16 page application, sending in paper claims every 2 weeks, etc.). It has been very easy and much less frustrating. We even were able to request paper checks instead of debit cards.

      The comments on-line about the system talk about many people having the same problems. I have no faith in the ability of such systems to handle the millions of transactions required, and you absolutely know that no system will be staffed in such a way to handle the problems that many individuals will have.

      We never felt the need to have Vaccine Passports for Measles, Mumps, Flu, Polio, Meningitis, Hepatitis etc. Why now and why Covid-19? It isn’t about safety.

      1. Krombopulous Michael

        Thank you! Aren’t we talking about a threat that has a 99.4% survival rate? Who knows who built the software, how was it tested, auditing. Writing software, you can end up with a lot of backdoors, or simply poor data input that could screw up freedom and mobility for people. Imagine a process like the DMV to try and get on a plane (or prove you can get on a plane). I’d worry far more about TB or ebola than this. Plus if it mutates with regularity, that means you’re on the hook regularly to update shots. We do not have long term data to observe what problems may arise. Or you may have one jurisdiction that won’t recognize a passport from another.

        “Vaccine passports can be used as an incentive to change behavior. They not only provide some direct benefits, but they signal what society expects from individuals.”
        So we can’t have voter IDs because that is disenfranchising, but unelected or elected officials can make a blanket provision for an ID strictly for the record of taking an Emergency Use Approval drug. As for LA, it’s a place where it’s argued people have a right to shoot heroin, live on the streets and get public assistance ad infinitum. So what behaviors do we want to change in society?

        1. Yves Smith

          We have explained repeatedly that Covid poses much greater risks than mortality. Newer studies have found 20% of Covid cases (including initially asymptomatic cases) result in long Covid. A large scale study in Texas (thousands of cases) found 100% of symptomatic cases and 70%-80% of asymptomatic cases showed lung damage on Xrays worse than if they’d smoked. Not at all clear if this will ever reverse. Covid patients also suffer strokes and show neurological damage:


          There are also disturbingly frequent cases of kidney damages.

          And when hospital systems become overloaded (which happens quickly because Covid cases are in the hospital for weeks as compared to a few days for routine surgeries and typical ER visits), the fatality rate rises because hospitals run out of capacity to treat patients in a timely basis. They pile up on gurneys in corridors, gasping for breath.

          1. Rhondda

            Thought I’d check in with NC again. Haven’t been here in nearly a year. Now I am reminded why. Good bye.

          2. Lor

            “We” have explained? Uh… try doing balanced researched? It is also possible to show the opposite. In fact, MDs have discussed this at length.

  6. David

    Last time this was discussed, a number of us pointed out that you already require a vaccine passport to get into a number of countries where certain diseases are endemic. So vaccination for international travel is already a custom and has been since well before the end of the last century. I suppose having your passport on a smartphone, like having your ticket on a smartphone, could seem sinister to some people.
    Governments have no need of vaccine passports to track peoples’ movements. The technology has existed for decades to track peoples’ movements (or at least their telephones) and vaccine passports won’t change this. Indeed, if such electronic passports follow the model of Covid trackers in Europe (like the one I have on my phone), no data is transmitted to any central authority anyway: it all stays on your phone, which is fine for demonstrating that you are vaccinated before boarding an aircraft for example.
    Covid may be the point of Peak Libertarianism where, at last, people are obliged to consider the welfare of others. My Body My Right to Infect Others, or My Body My Right to Get Infected and Infect Others don’t seem like very powerful slogans just now.

  7. vlade

    Ok, got bit more time, so here we go.

    1. Irrelevant. Vaccine passport is a datapoint on when someone was vaccinated, and what with. Same as current international vaccinations passports, which requires the vaccinations to be up-to-date.
    2. Mostly irrelevant. Geopolitical games will happen with or without vaccine. Saudis won’t let you in with an Israeli visa in your passport. Duh.
    3. I’ll give you this one, but a mission creep is something that can happen _anywhere_. If we accept mission creep as a fundamental reason why something should not happen, nothing will happen.
    4. Too late, it’s already here, and not having vaccine passports won’t make it go away.
    5. Unrestricted international travel is not a basic human right. Many states have a vaccination entry requirement already, some basic research would be useful.
    6. This is the most important part. The government is, to an extent, unavoidable here, but any data leaking to the private space should be a massive no-no. A paper vaccination card is simple, can be relatively cheap (even secure), and has a precedent (see points 5 and 1)
    7. It’s going to be more permanent than 2 months. But the permanency will be driven by the user-states, which in many cases even now require PCR tests or a quarantine. When that drive drops, the vaccination passports will drop too, unless point 3 kicks in.

    IMO, the arguments are really weak apart from the data leaking to the private sector (which is a major issue), and a potential for a mission creep. Both can be addressed very easily – a simple paper form ala the current international vaccination yellow book, but with a few more security elements.

    1. David

      I’d add to your point 6 that it would be very odd if governments didn’t know who in their population had been vaccinated. Other vaccinations, after all, are a matter of record. When I had my AZ shot a few days ago, my name was transmitted to the local health authority, so I don’t get called twice, and the data was added to my personal health card. My own experience suggests that governments are too busy to engage in motiveless malignity, and I have no real idea what they would do with the fact that you’ve been vaccinated or not, and how many times. The mission creep argument is attractive simply because you can’t prove a negative by definition, but I struggle to see where the mission could creep to that isn’t covered already.

      1. ambrit

        I’ll counter by saying that the mere ability of digital ‘actors’ to have access to one’s personal information is the basic point. (Point #3, mission creep.) That information is available to whomever wishes to use it, for whatever reason. The potential for ‘harm’ is the danger, not just the actual harm.
        I have learned that “One cannot be too cynical” where large organizations are concerned. The very anonymity of being in a large organization gives cover to all sorts of maleficence.

        1. vlade

          David’s point is that the government (at least in the UK, and most countries where health-provision is seen as a duty of the governemnet, not somethign to faff of to a private market) has the information already, and much more in addition. The point is then a much wider – don’t let the private companies to have a go at it, which I believe we all agree on. But that’s something we’d strive for vaccination or not.

          (talking as someone who just got a cold call on “you have unsecured debt”, with my response “where did you get my number, name etc? And how does it feel to do your job, when you know that what you do is running scams, because I have no unsecured debt?”)

        2. Basil Pesto

          I have learned that “One cannot be too cynical” where large organizations are concerned.

          Perhaps, but on the other hand, as David
          points out, you can’t prove a negative. So who is going to call you out and do an inventory on decades of accrued but errant cynicism? I for instance once hysterically believed that GWB would contrive some constitutional crisis and seek a third term in office on the back of it (sound familiar?), but in my defense I was 15 at the time.

          There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about this and in that sense I am broadly sympathetic with vlade and David’s arguments (and interested in sound arguments to their contrary based in the real world and not in the glib, automatic cynicism of alt-media land). Arguing that it’s ever-and-always a bad idea, in every country and at all times, or that it’s going to inevitably be evil because we’re living in a reverse-Panglossian Worst-Of-Times, isn’t terribly persuasive or interesting when the ultimate aim is to achieve the best public health outcome possible.

    2. Ignacio

      My main concern is that a passport scheme right now looks very much like starting the building by the roof (don’t known if this is a valid expression in English) and the reasons when the passport schemes have been issued has been with diseases that are rare. For instance tropical virus diseases in temperate countries such as Ebola and the effort to prevent re-entry is well worthy given the alarm these diseases create and the cost of localizing all contacts to ensure a cod end or a cul-de-sac for propagation risk. But, nobody has tried before such a scheme for a disease like, for instance flu which is understood to be widely spread and the effort to localize and avoid flu introduction is not worthy. I think the same applies for Covid and I think these certification schemes rely on the belief that Covid 19 can be eradicated and that those schemes would help to do it. For these two simple reasons: 1) there is no practical way to control a respiratory disease which is transmitted through the air –as we have already seen– and we have to (definitely) assume it has come to stay and cannot be eradicated and the effort of vaccine certification is futile.

      The only reason I can find, but it is still disputable it could work, is to use those certificates to reduce access to populations that are still vulnerable, though even in those cases and given that vaccination programmes have started with the elder and in many cases a majority of them has some protection, the function of the scheme could be disputable.

      1. vlade

        I disagree that this has no benefit, as IMO there’s a substantial evidence that travel (tourists mainly) was one of the important vectors.

        The larger issue is IMO whether the vaccination will substantially reduce the transmission, and how efficient it will be in dealing with variants. Variants are the stuff that really makes me nervous. TBH, the best vaccination IMO would be to create a variant that is mild-cold like and let it supplant the virus in the wild. Sort of where we’re likely to end up in some time anyways (by the virus evolution), but speed it up.

    3. Basil Pesto

      just re: point 5 as well, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is a third order human rights instrument and applies very narrowly to EU states making EU law. It’s not a source of fundamental human rights, such as they are. For that, in Europe, you turn to the European Convention on HR (which is subscribed to by many more states than are in the EU). More broadly, you can turn to the UDHR, but the jurisprudence for the ECHR is much stronger.

      i’ve spent quite a lot of time searching hudoc for relevant past case law for a situation like this and it’s pretty slim pickings thus far, but I’ll keep looking.

  8. .human

    We already live in a “show me your papers” world.

    Mrs human and I wished to avail ourselves of a beer tent at a local ag fair. We were required to show proof of age (both of us 65+). The Mrs does not travel locally with ID (she doesn’t drive). She was therefore refused entrance. I asked the reason and the state troopers guarding the entrance simply repeated the requirement to show ID.

    1. Laura in So Cal

      It is interesting how the rules are applied. I assume they were checking ID to make sure you above drinking age. At the supermarket here in California, they only ask for ID to buy alcohol if you look like you are under maybe 35? I see them look at me and hit a button on the register when I buy alcohol. They are bypassing the ID requirement. I’m 55 and don’t wear cosmetics or dye my hair so I’m obviously over 21.

      The people at your fair were obviously being held to checking ID…not using the common sense for the reason for it. I see this all the time now for lower level employees of all sorts of enterprises. They either don’t understand the reason for rules and/or are given no leeway in enforcing them even if the rules don’t apply or make sense in a particular instance.

  9. tegnost

    The speed at which these initiatives are being rushed out should give pause for thought

    Never let a crisis go to waste…

  10. Even Keel

    I suggest the anti crowd stop using the word passport. The word “passport” is misleading, a calling to mind a totally inapplicable situation. International travel has a wholly separate applicable body of law. These are domestic travel clearances. These would be unprecedented. Calling them passports suggests a precedent.

  11. Hubert Horan

    Agree with Vlade, #6 is the most important of Nick’s 7 points. But the idea of using paper forms to limit risks, while entirely logical (as with paper ballots protecting voting security) is a pipedream.
    Also critically important (but unmentioned) is cost and price. Obviously many countries would see this (like real passports) as a governmental task where fees should be held as low as possible, but the neoliberal countries would demand private sector involvement and control. This will allow for significant rent-extraction and/or access to private data (which will be justified as a way of holding down fees). Thus simple options like paper documents would block this rent-extraction, they will be totally off the table. Since vaccine “passports” could not work without established global standards, countries like America could easily demand that the rest of the world accept standards with minimal privacy/security protections.

    Another economic issue is that the hypothetical benefits of a vaccine “passport” will be distributed highly unevenly. Huge near term benefits for airlines and other tourism/travel industries, but doubt they will bear a significant portion of the cost.

    Also do not understand how a digital passport would work in practice. How can I produce my document overseas if my phone is not connected to the local telecom service? Does every national border post need to have a live connection to a central database of every vaccinated person in the world? The systems at border posts verifying “real passports” are staggeringly complicated. Who is maintaining the systems to identify the millions of forged vaccine passports and incorporate that data into the master database?

    Separately, I don’t think most observers have taken the resistance to national ID in America seriously, or the huge turf wars between states and government agencies that will inevitably develop

    1. David

      “How can I produce my document overseas if my phone is not connected to the local telecom service? ”

      I assume, in the same way that you produce your boarding card for the flight, or to get on a train, or anything else. It’s a local document, downloaded onto your phone, and kept either in an application like iOS’s Wallet (I think there’s an Android equivalent) or in a special bespoke application. As with those, it would presumably incorporate a QR code or a barcode of some sort. Because you don’t get vaccinated daily, weekly or even monthly, there’s no need for such a document to be available in real time: the data would include the date of vaccination.
      Whether you would want to do such a thing, of course, is another question, but implementation wouldn’t be difficult;

  12. chuck roast

    I have recently found that having an actual name is of little consequence when navigating the medical industrial complex. Although I’m well into geezerhood, I don’t take any patented drugs or generics nor have a chronic condition, so I’m a comparative nimrod at this. Last week an ophthalmologist prescribed some sort of eye-drops for my glaucoma. Subsequently, the druggist asked for DOB. Instead, I gave him my name. He told me names didn’t work in the system because there could be thousands of people with my name. I asked who else he knew with my name, and he said that that didn’t matter. Anyway, I wasn’t giving this oligopoly my DOB. So, I didn’t get the meds.

    I then turned to the internet and searched for homeopathic remedies without much luck. Looking up various pharma medications for glaucoma, I was struck by the listed side effects of the different eye drops which included depression and lowered blood pressure as well as a host of unwelcome physical impacts. Clearly a case of the cure being worse than the disease.

    1. Michael McK

      Cannabis use is famous for helping glaucoma. Depending where you live in you may have access to Cannabinoid eye ointments. If unavailable, a bunch of smoking weed from your local stoner slow cooked in a little olive oil as an eye drop could suffice as would, if you enjoy/don’t mind the side effects, smoking a bit the old fashioned way.
      PS Take medical advise from randoms on the internet with an extra dose of personal research.

  13. polecat

    How can a reasonable person trust ANYONE in authority, be they .gov or Corpse, to NOT abuse the requirements of these ‘documents’ – whether physical or digital, considering what has transpired politically the last two decades! . These will be used as a control mechanism by the psycho/socialpaths running the show .. picking ‘favorites’ by those very same. This is not about disease mitigation.

    Build backflips Better

    1. Maritimer

      “How can a reasonable person trust ANYONE in authority,…”
      Or: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (Gulf of Tonkin, Iran-Contra, Iraq WMD, 2008 Bailout and many other lies and deceits)

      This is just another way like masks to identify dissidents, refuseniks and punish/target them for shame, retaliation and opprobrium. In a public health system, these folks can, nudge-nudge-wink-wink, be denied proper healthcare because they did not get vaccinated with an experimental treatment.

  14. Claire

    Another means of implementing a Chinese style social credit score like scheme, with attendant cashless society, complete Orwellian control, geofencing, tracking, administered by the political puppetmasters, Silicon Valley.
    In the Soviet Union, internal passports prevented people from moving or living where they wanted.


  15. Brunches with Cats

    Requiring a vaccine card for entrance into certain venues has consequences not just for the individual, but for those businesses. When I got Moderna #1 through the VA outpatient clinic (two weeks ago; dread #2 scheduled May 1), I received a wallet-sized card. Afterwards, I went to the Italian deli around the corner for Friday fried haddock. The line usually is out the door, but with social-distancing requirements, was out into the parking lot and almost into the street. The owner was out mingling with customers, and I overheard him say he worried that soon the state would tell him he couldn’t let anybody in without a card. (New York was among the first states to mandate masks in public and to give business the legal right to refuse entry without a mask.)

    As for the “COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card,” it has CDC and DHHS logos upper right, with lines for the dates, vax make and lot #, and signature of supervising RN. Although I’ve opted out of records sharing with state and federal health info databases, I’m assuming this information was sent to NYS Dept of Health and its multiple third-party “partners.” FWIW, all of the VA’s medical records are stored on AWS, which is in partnership with Cerner. On the day it announced the official partnership (in practice, it already existed), Cerner was very clear that it intended to profit handsomely from open access to all that data.

    1. Claire

      On the plus side, if they call you to Jury duty, or subpoena you against your will,

      “Sorry, I can’t enter the courthouse, haven’t been vaccinated”

  16. Elizabeth Burton

    There are many issues about this requirement, not least of which is what about people for whom the vaccine is contraindicated. Are they doomed to be barred from going anywhere that chooses to require proof of vaccination forever, or will accommodations be made per the ADA?

    Anyway, here’s another viewpoint.

  17. ksw

    After I got my 2nd covid vaccination shot, I noticed the lot number was illegible. I went back to the FEMA rep at the table and asked him to correct it because, as I told him, this is my official record. He said it was not the official record. On the way out the door of the community center, I asked the rep from the health clinic that was also running the vaccination clinic. He thought the card was the official record and recommended laminating it for safe keeping. I followed up with medical records at the clinic and was told I could create an account and download my vaccination record. I looked at Arizona Health Services to see if they kept track of the vaccinations and no, they do not. However, you can create an account on AZ MyIR and see if they have the info. I did and there’s no record of me although I can circle back to the health clinic and see if they’ll upload the info to the State. Forget about the CDC. They only report deaths in their own fashion and don’t have records of who specifically is vaccinated. People are posting images for download and instructions on how to create a false ID using the “official” card we get at vaccination. You see where I am going? How can a vaccine passport be created when there’s no official record of who has been vaccinated. I’d love to hear what others have to say about their medical records. I let my regular health care provider know I was vaccinated and the information is on my record but noticed the specifics of lot number are not on my chart. Sigh.

  18. William Hunter Duncan

    A lot of the people I know who support the idea of a vaccine passport also support gov working with big tech and big media to decide what is truth and what is not, and censoring that which they decide is not truth. They also seem to be incapable of questioning eternal war profiteering (particularly now that it is a Biden thing), they tend to think the Intelligence Community is the most honest institution in America, they seem to think that all we need is initiative to make a “renewable” society that looks more or less exactly like this one, and they seem inclined to believe that if we open up the borders we will populate ourselves to eternal prosperity.

    Forgive me if I am skeptical about such people back-door coercing me into taking a mostly experimental vaccine.

    1. Greg

      STAT news reports that Pfizer expects to submit a full approval request for their vaccine in H1 2021. If approved, the vaccine can no longer be regarded as “mostly experimental”, partularly since many millions of doses have been given with very low rates of adverse reaction.

      1. Yves Smith


        As we have said, regulatory approval takes years. The fastest under the normal process is 4 years. 6 to 10 more typical. So it won’t be approved until 2025 under a best case scenario.

        STAT had an excellent article describing some of the corners the FDA cut in the EUA. For instance, in a regular trial, the FDA verifies the data about each and every participant: that they actually exist, demographic and medical history data, applicant info about what happened with each of them. STAT also criticized the FDA for their short cut on the statistical review, which typically takes 6-9 months with a large team. The FDA took only 2 weeks and had only 2 people. STAT pointed out they should have had more people to do a more complete job in the limited time.

      2. William Hunter Duncan

        One of the reasons mRNA vaccines have not been used before is because there was concern that such vaccines could cause auto-immune issues. That concern evaporated in the face of Covid collapsing the economy. Such issues may take years to show up. That is one of the things that cannot be talked about or even mentioned. That is why it will continue to be an experimental vaccine even if the gov says all is well in the near term.

  19. Sean

    This is just another instance of being in a low trust environment. If you have trust then there’s a lot of benefits to the passport. If you don’t have trust then there’s a lot of ways you think these can be used against you in the future.

    For America these passports made a lot more sense earlier in the pandemic as a mean to allow the already infected to return to normal life. As long as two things are true 1) the vaccine prevents life threatening disease and 2) everyone has access to the vaccine
    Then suddenly there’s no good reason to require passports. Anyone unvaccinated doing risky behavior is only risking their own life. That’s their choice.

  20. David

    In essence, there are two questions here. One is whether there are circumstances under which it is legitimate to ask people to produce some form of evidence that they are vaccinated, before they are allowed to do certain things. The principle is not new: you can’t hire a car without showing a driving licence, you can’t buy alcohol in some countries without proving your age, you can’t do winter sports without medical insurance, you can’t do certain high-risk activities without a doctor’s certificate, and so on. That’s not a question that can be settled empirically, because it tends to turn into an argument between libertarians, who see only responsibility to themselves and their wishes, and communitarians, who see responsibility to others as well.

    This has become confused with another argument, which is that the information about who is and isn’t vaccinated, will be “misused” in some fashion, especially if records are held centrally. (Since it’s hard to imagine records being held centrally in manual form, the issue of electronic records arises straight away). Now, such centralised records are held in every society with a nationally or federally-based health service, and these include, of course, records of vaccinations. So the question removes itself into whether there is something wrong with adding centralised records of Covid vaccination to what exists already. Given that Covid vaccinations are a more sensitive subject than vaccinations against, say, Yellow Fever, that’s a legitimate question, but again it’s not entirely new: there are unvaccinated immigrant communities in parts of London that have brought certain diseases with them, for example.

    That said, it’s incumbent on those who think this would be a problem, or might be a problem, to explain why. GUBMINT EVIL is not an argument. I haven’t really seen any coherent argument about how and why a government would misuse information about who was vaccinated and who wasn’t, whereas it’s evident that such information would not only be useful, but essential, in deciding, for example, when enough vaccinations had been carried out that various parts of life could start up again. Few governments would shrug their shoulders and say “sorry, we have no records of who’s been vaccinated and where and when.” Likewise, assuming that vaccination lists might be leaked to EvilCo, what would actually happen as a result?

    In summary, and as generally with Covid, this debate is really a surrogate for other fears and anxieties. You can see this most clearly in the more extreme forms of resistance theories: that vaccines could contain microchips to control our behaviour, for example, as is quite widely believed in parts of Europe. Many of the other arguments relate not to what’s proposed, but what might hypothetically be done in the future, or, ironically, what already exists. In the latter category, the idea of some kind of electronic passport being used to “track” the population is, as a number of us have pointed out, completely anachronistic. Governments have been able to do this for a generation now, and the horse is so far out of the stable that the stable itself has been repurposed as a co-working space. Likewise, Smart health cards have existed for a very long time in France: I have mine here. It shows my photo and social security number, and has a microchip, readable by health professionals, with my insurance details and the various medical treatments and prescriptions I’ve had. I can add other details such as a contact number for emergencies. It now contains a note that I’ve been vaccinated. The information stays on the card, and is (optionally) transmitted once a year to my health authority. Whilst this card is only readable by health professionals, the same technology could easily produce one readable by any QR reader at any place where you wanted to restrict access.

    So between GUBMINT EVIL, things already being done and things that haven’t been proposed yet, there isn’t an awful lot in this debate to get your teeth into.

    1. vlade

      I agree with the one exception of EvilCo, based on the paradigm of minimum-needed data sharing.
      I.e. I’m ok with the govt holding my data, becasue it already does and will do. But I do not see any valid reason for the EvilCo to hold my data, especially not w/o me knowing it and agreeing to it (explicitly, and with a real choice).

    2. vlade

      I’ll add one more thing – it’s the indication of a trust, or a lack of. Both within the society, and more specifically in a govt.

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