After a tragic and long year and a half of international lockdowns and hospitalizations, the outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic has become more promising due to the vigorous development of a two-dose vaccine from companies Moderna and Pfizer. However, an April 2021 public opinion poll estimated that one in four Americans refuse to get vaccinated. Vaccine hesitancy poses a threat for yet another wave of the deadly COVID-19 virus, as well as more international lockdowns restricting travel. For preventative measures, the United States should temporarily require a vaccine passport for international and domestic travel to prevent another fatal wave of COVID-19.
The implementation of vaccine passports for international travelers provides an elevated level of safety for travelers and those residing in countries where the privilege of modern medicine may not be as readily available as it is in the United States. Certain countries, known as “vaccine deserts,” have limited access to COVID-19 vaccines. For example, at the end of June 2021, there were 5,363,727 confirmed cases in Africa due to the lack of modern medicine. Oppositely, the United States is currently equipped to administer around 694,000 vaccines daily. Vaccine passports add a level of security to ensure only vaccinated individuals can travel to areas where a low percentage of individuals have access to vaccinations. Not only will this protect residents from getting infected by travelers, but it will also ensure the safety of the health of Americans who travel to vaccine deserts. Implementing vaccine passports is essential to protect Americans traveling internationally due to the high risk of COVID-19 exposure that can be considered persistent in international airports from unvaccinated individuals.
Mandating vaccine passports would ensure that only vaccinated individuals could travel, significantly decreasing exposure to the virus and making it easier for countries to conduct contact tracing. Suppose individuals can become identified by their vaccine passports. Presenting proof of vaccination would allow authorities to identify where the infection came from and who needs to be tested. If vaccine passports were not mandatory and unvaccinated individuals entered a country where most of the population could not receive the vaccine, local communities could become infected with the COVID-19 virus. To protect individuals around the world from another deadly wave of COVID-19, the United States has a moral responsibility to temporarily require a vaccine passport for international and domestic travel because we possess the resources to do so.
Requiring a vaccine passport for domestic travel would be a preventive measure to decrease the risk of COVID-19 from spreading within our borders. The New York Times provided data concerning states such as Louisiana and Mississippi, which have seen more than a 270% increase in new COVID-19 cases over 14 days in late July. States with the most significant rise in new cases have the lowest vaccination rates, where less than 40% of individuals are vaccinated. A domestic vaccine passport will make it more likely that vaccinated individuals entering borders of states with low vaccination rates will be protected from being infected.
Temporary vaccine passports for international and domestic travel are not a new idea. In June of 2021, the European Union launched a digital vaccine passport to seventeen countries including Spain, Italy, and Germany. With success, these countries have managed to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19 by implementing a temporary vaccine passport for international and domestic travel. For example, the Netherlands has experienced a 26% decline of positive cases in one week through vaccine passports and increased precautions.
Historically, the United States has required vaccinations for citizens. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905) that citizens were required to receive the smallpox vaccine. The requirement was of legitimate state interest to ensure the public health of American citizens. The United States also has a history of issuing temporary vaccine passports. Between the 1920s and the 1930s, multiple countries, including America, required proof of the smallpox vaccine when entering back into the States. The temporary vaccine passport was no longer required after the smallpox disease was eradicated and enough citizens received vaccinations.
There has been a rising concern regarding the right to privacy and what data can be collected via digital vaccine passports. However, mobile applications showing proof of vaccination will most likely implement “blockchain” technology, which does not share location or any sensitive health data. This has been a safe and successful approach, as the state of New York has already implemented it. If the United States issued temporary COVID-19 vaccine passports for international and domestic travel, it could provide a sense of security for citizens and protect them from another wave of a virus that has managed to put all of our lives on hold.