Will vaccine passports come to Illinois? SPRINGFIELD — Nearly one-quarter of Illinois residents have been fully vaccinated. Nearly 40% have received at least one dose of the vaccine. As these numbers continue to climb and the state moves closer to a “bridge phase” that will eventually entail the full reopening of the economy, questions have
Will vaccine passports come to Illinois?
SPRINGFIELD — Nearly one-quarter of Illinois residents have been fully vaccinated. Nearly 40% have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
As these numbers continue to climb and the state moves closer to a “bridge phase” that will eventually entail the full reopening of the economy, questions have been raised as to whether proof of vaccination, more commonly known as a “vaccine passport,” be required to participate in certain aspects of society.
The concept is relatively simple: a digital or written certificate that serves as proof that a person has been fully immunized against COVID-19. Many believe it to be a ticket back to normalcy.
Several private companies have started developing vaccine passport apps that can be downloaded on smartphones. And in late March, New York became the first state to launch a free, voluntary vaccine passport available to all the state’s residents.
In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has been relatively mum on the issue. When asked by reporters in March, he said that he likes the idea “that everybody will have with them easily on their device some way to show that they’ve been vaccinated.”
“Look, your friends, your neighbors, we all want to get together,” Pritzker said. “You may also want to show each other that ‘hey, it’s okay, we can take our masks off … as the CDC has allowed, as long as the group of people getting together have all been vaccinated.”
Pritzker said “there’s nothing wrong with that as long as it’s your choice,” but said that a vaccine passport should not be required to enter an event.
The governor’s office, asked for an update on Pritzker’s position on vaccine passports, did not respond to requests for comment.
Some raise legal issues
The vaccine passport debate has brought many questions to the fore. For one, is it legal for private businesses, such as a concert venue or restaurant, to ask for proof of vaccination?
According to James Hodge, director the Center for Public Health Law and Policy at Arizona State University, “until the government tells you you can’t do it,” the answer is “yes.”
“When you’re talking about creating a safe environment for persons that otherwise can’t assemble safely, … be that a sports stadium, or a cruise ship, on an airplane, a train or whatever, you may expect that more and more businesses will require some proof of vaccination and will do so until such point that government tells them they can’t do that any longer,” Hodge said.
This will likely vary state-by-state as the Biden Administration has ruled out the creation of a federal vaccine passport.
The federal government is, however, working with the private sector to create a standard way to handle credentials for those who wish to utilize a passport.
Governors in five states — Idaho, Montana, Florida, Texas and Utah — have signed orders barring state agencies from requiring proof of vaccination. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis went even further, threatening to punish private businesses for requiring a vaccine passport.
Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have also brought up concerns with vaccine passports, such as their potential to increase inequity as not everyone has a smartphone; and to open the door for companies to amass a mountain of personal data that can be sold for commercial purposes.
This patchwork approach, reflecting the country’s divisions over COVID-related restrictions and whether to receive the vaccine, will limit the effectiveness of vaccine passports, according to Mercedes Carnethon, an epidemiologist and vice chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
“It’s an interesting theoretical concept, but I don’t see its practical utility solely because people have not bought into the value of vaccination,” Carnethon said. “And there are competing economic demands that would mean that some individuals are never going to care if you actually have a vaccine passport because their business depends on people being there.”
Carnethon then posed the hypothetical question: “Can you imagine that Disney World would require a vaccine passport for people coming in if (their) entire financial model is based on people attending their park?”
‘COVID-19 is exactly the same’
In Illinois, the issue has not exactly been on the front burner.
All regions of the state remains in Phase 4, a partial reopening that limits capacity in bars and restaurants, retail stores, venues and other places.
The bridge to Phase 5, a full reopening, has been halted by rising COVID-19 cases and increasing hospitalization across the state.
Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Maisch said the issue of vaccine passports has not come up much with his members, but could the longer the pandemic stretches out.
“I think what really is going to force this is if the lockdown provisions continue into a second, even third year,” Maisch said. “That’s going to force some hard decisions for some employers. If you’re in transportation, if you’re in the hospitality area, you’re going to have to take a hard look at that because it almost becomes a marketing decision as much as it is a public health decision.”
Maisch said the business advocacy group would oppose any government mandate for vaccine passports, saying that “individual businesses should have the right to make the decision for themselves.”
But beyond businesses, expect there to be vaccine mandates in other sectors. Hodge notes that with few exceptions, children who attend public schools must be vaccinated. Same thing for most universities.
It may also become a requirement of international travel as governments look to limit the spread within their borders.
“The reality is, already we set some passport-like requirements via government for introduction into places where the risk of spread is so profound that you would set that particular condition to make sure you don’t have outbreaks of measles, mumps or other issues,” Hodge said. “COVID-19 is exactly the same in that respect.”
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