Ever since the idea of vaccine passports was introduced, there has been endless debate about their necessity. Many on the left view vaccine passports as an obvious solution to preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, while those further to the right argue that they are an unnecessary violation of personal liberties. While COVID-19 is still a new and unknown beast, our pre-existing knowledge of similar viruses combined with what we have learned in the past year and a half should generate a logical, safe, and bipartisan solution. Vaccine passports should be necessary for travel, but only to and from high-risk areas. They are essential for protecting the welfare of the collective, but limiting them will also preserve the liberties of the individual.
While the traditional idea of American freedom has historically not been extended to all groups, American culture is one that theoretically revolves around individualism and minimal government intervention. However, exceptional situations merit certain sacrifices. The effective mandate of vaccines that vaccine passports would cause is unfounded territory in terms of constitutionality, but a logical compromise between the two sides of the debate could lie in requiring such passports only to and from areas of high risk. While it’s hardly up for debate whether or not vaccines work to help prevent hospitalizations and death (in every state, over 94% of overall cases and over 96% of deaths were in unvaccinated individuals), their effective mandate still raises plenty of questions about personal liberty, government overreach, and long-term safety concerns. The line would need to be drawn where the danger to the collective outweighs the choice of the individual. Using vaccine passports only for areas with high infection and low vaccination rates allows for a higher degree of safety and accountability, while still limiting government interference in the exercise of personal freedoms.
Vaccination rates now serve as an effective predictor of the areas the CDC lists as hotspots with particularly high rates of infection and death. Areas with low vaccination rates and higher infection percentages are becoming increasingly dangerous as the Delta variant spreads and the peak transmission season (late summer and fall) rounds the corner. Proof of vaccination for travel to and from these areas would both prevent these hotspots from causing more nationwide infection (by stopping the spread of the virus from these areas) and help to avoid putting even more strain on already stressed healthcare systems (by preventing new cases from being introduced to these areas). If the public health concerns that come with the Delta variant can be drastically reduced by the introduction of vaccine passports for travel, it would be in the best interest of the nation’s welfare for such programs to be implemented.
While the idea of government oversight on something as restrictive as a vaccine passport might understandably stir up strong fears and concerns for many, this kind of regulation is not unprecedented. Setting aside the everyday laws that everyone must follow to preserve public safety, such as simple traffic laws, restrictions on travel similar to a vaccine passport have not been absent from American history. Even less than a year ago, many states and nations had extremely strict travel restrictions to prevent the worsening of the pandemic. The introduction of a vaccine passport would simply be an addition to these recent restrictions. The government has also historically instituted somewhat similar restrictive laws in the name of counterterrorism and national security, such as visa regulations, no-fly lists, and limitations on baggage contents. These are things that many do not take issue with as they recognize that the nation as a whole would benefit from these small requirements from individuals. Vaccine passports follow the same concept.
If an area of the country has a high enough vaccination rate and low enough cases to effectively have achieved herd immunity, then a passport would not be necessary. However, in areas without enough vaccination to provide herd immunity, the vaccine passports would be needed as a supplemental form of protection, at least in the short term. While the conversation around vaccine passports is a contentious one to have, the nation must remember that balance between government intervention and the preservation of personal liberty is key to long-term success. Nationwide vaccination will eventually lead to proper protection from COVID-19, but for the immediate future, it would be in the country’s best interest to require vaccine passports for travel to and from particularly dangerous areas in order to properly preserve public health and welfare.