The White House is working on a COVID-19 vaccine passport initiative that could be required for travel, sporting events and even eating out, reports The Washington Post.
The report comes as major U.S. airlines and nearly 30 travel and labor groups are pushing President Joe Biden to develop a standardized, government-backed credential to "accelerate safe economic activity and recovery."
"The U.S. must be a leader in this development," the groups wrote in a letter to COVID-19 Recovery Team Coordinator Jeff Zients on Monday. "The current diverse and fragmented digital health credentials used to implement different countries' air travel testing requirements risk causing confusion, reducing compliance, and increasing fraud."
Zients and the Department of Health and Human Services are leading the effort, according to sources who spoke with the Post. The White House declined to answer questions about the initiative and instead directed the news outlet to public statements made by Zients and other officials this month on the topic.
"Our role is to help ensure that any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy," Zients said at a March 12 briefing.
The initiative has presented multiple challenges for the administration, including data privacy issues and healthcare equity. Additionally, at least 17 other initiatives are already underway.
The Vaccine Credential Initiative, a collaboration between tech and health care companies to develop technology that would store a secure copy of an individual’s vaccination record in a digital wallet on a person’s smartphone, is already in the works.
"The busboy, the janitor, the waiter that works at a restaurant, wants to be surrounded by employees that are going back to work safely - and wants to have the patrons ideally be safe as well," Brian Anderson, a physician at Mitre, a nonprofit company that runs federally funded research centers, who is helping lead the initiative, told the Post.
"Creating an environment for those vulnerable populations to get back to work safely - and to know that the people coming back to their business are ‘safe,’ and vaccinated - would be a great scenario."
Some experts say the moves are premature.
"I think it's premature to be talking about how we get people these immunizations certificates," L.J Tan, CSO at the Immunization Action Coalition, told Advisory Board in January.
"Our focus should be on getting people vaccinated. Once we get enough people vaccinated then we can leverage that vaccinated pool for analysis."
Nita Farany, a professor and director of the Initiative for Science & Society at Duke University, told Advisory she had concerns of passports creating a "two-tiered society" where individuals who haven’t received a vaccine don’t have access to public places and jobs versus those who are vaccinated.
"I'm just opposed to it right now, when there is a significant limitation on the number of people who can get access to Covid vaccines," she said.
The United States has administered 143,462,691 doses of COVID-19 vaccines as of Sunday morning and distributed 180,646,465 doses, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday.
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