Vaccine Passports (or Something Like Them) May Be Coming Soon

Vaccine Passports (or Something Like Them) May Be Coming Soon
Photo:Grant Hindsley / AFP (Getty Images)

The White House is reportedly developing a kind of vaccine “passport” that Americans will use to provide proof that they’ve received their covid vaccine.

The passport would be free and available in both physical and digital formats, the latter likely being a “scannable code similar to an airline boarding pass,” according to the Washington Post. There are at least 17 initiatives underway to develop the credentialing technology, some of which stem from the private sector and are already moving forward into the testing phase: Currently, New York State is piloting an IBM-developed digital certificate. Another initiative, made up of more than 225 public and private organizations, is preparing to roll out its software next month.

If this is already sounding massively complicated and worryingly scattered, that’s because it is. The number of disparate efforts to build the same technology is “one of the most significant hurdles facing federal officials,” the Post reports. A slide from a recent meeting held by the Federal Health IT Coordinating Council, a government body within the Department of Health and Human Services, warned: “A chaotic and ineffective vaccine credential approach could hamper our pandemic response by undercutting health safety measures, slowing economic recovery, and undermining public trust and confidence.”

It’s not yet clear how exactly the Biden administration will stave off this impending chaos; for now officials will only say that the White House has taken on a larger role coordinating the government agencies working on the digital certificates.

I can’t say I feel particularly ready for the backlash that will inevitably follow the advent of so-called vaccine passports. While there are obvious concerns about privacy and equity that are worth discussing, it seems likely that any substantive conversations about those subjects will be overshadowed by anti-vaxxers, for example, who will be loud and angry if they’re not permitted to enter an establishment without proof of vaccination. Sellers on the dark web are already reportedly offering forged vaccination cards in anticipation of forthcoming restrictions.

Nearly every aspect of the pandemic has been completely unimaginable to me before it’s happened, especially everything that has to do with getting out of it. After the last year, I certainly can’t say with any confidence that I trust the vaccine passports will work out in the end, or that the Biden administration will figure out how to make them unforgeable, ethical, and effective. But since it appears to be one of the final obstacles to returning to “normal,” I suppose I can at least hope.

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