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Today’s BBC News reports that a European vaccination passport is being rolled out in several countries. As the article states:

  • “It’s available in, and recognised by, all 27 EU member states – plus Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.
  • “It’s free – and all EU citizens, as well as non-EU nationals legally staying or living in the member states (with the right to travel to other member states) can download it or obtain a paper copy.
  • “Some countries have already been using the certificate on a voluntary basis – but it’s being officially introduced from 1 July with a six-week phase-in period.”

So why hasn’t the U.S. done this yet?

As reported on June 15 by Ceylan Yeginsu, London-based correspondent for the New York Times, “The drive [for a vax pass] has raised privacy and equity concerns and some states like Florida and Texas have banned businesses from requiring vaccination certificates.”

Whereas the EU is essentially a collection of country-states, the U.S. is a collection of states making up one country. Each state in our country further has its own sovereign powers. It appears easier to get entire countries within the EU to agree to a universal solution than it is to get, say, Hawaii to agree with Vermont. Add in our constitutionally guaranteed individual right to protect our privacy no matter the consequences, and the U.S. become the least effective arena for a meeting of minds on tech access to, and the dissemination and protection of, medical information.

We saw similar difficulties as they emerged in sharing medical information between health care billing departments and the Federal reimbursement programs that required certain diagnosis information to pay out. We know that prior to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), insurance companies would use our medical information against us by outright denying or limiting coverage. So it shouldn’t surprise us that a country-wide vax pass would be a monumental initiative to agree on, outline, test, and deploy. Especially in states that legislated against using COVID-19 vaccinations as criteria for everything from hiring employees to wearing masks.

Still, there are initiatives and vax passes in play; Yeginsu writes that New York’s app, the Excelsior digital pass, has surpassed one million downloads, and “The pass has been used by thousands of New Yorkers to enter Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and other smaller public venues”. For travelers, airlines like Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic and Jet Blue are using a digital app called Common Pass, and IATA (International Air Transport Association) has its own Health Pass system, used by some 20 airlines as a means of registering flier vaccination information when they purchase their tickets.

But is it all legal? Yengisu states that “It depends on state regulations. The Biden administration has said there will be no federal vaccination system or mandate. Individual states hold primary public health powers in the United States and have the authority to require vaccines.”

It will likely be a while before we see a U.S. vax pass in any form, though President Biden has said it will not be federally mandated. That means apps, like those mentioned above or a host of new ones under development, will come from the private sector. The trick will be getting them recognized and authorized for use by the rest of the world.

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