Jacksonville, Fla. – Airlines and others in the travel industry are throwing support behind vaccine passports hoping to boost pandemic-depressed travel. They’re also called health certificates or travel passes and the White House wants them to be free, private and secure, but it also raises questions as to who’s going to issue them and whether the idea is even viable.
The CDC still advises against travel and there are those who say the program would benefit the wealthy and be unfair. University of Central Florida Public Health expert Dr. Yara Asi weighed in on the controversial debate in an interview Thursday on The Morning Show.
“Any program that differentiates between people that are vaccinated versus people that are not is only as fair as vaccine distribution itself. And we know so far that we have disparities both between countries and also within countries. So here in the U.S., we’re seeing racial minorities and low-income populations getting vaccinated at much lower rates,” said Asi. “We’re also seeing inequities with who would have a device or a smartphone that could carry like a digital-type passport. We all know kids can’t get vaccinated quite yet. And there are some people that will choose for health or personal reasons to just not get the vaccine.”
While countries like the U.K. and China are actually creating government-supported apps and programs for these vaccine passports, those ideas raise concerns in the U.S. about the government or private companies collecting your private health data.
“The World Health Organization did release some guidance, but they can’t actually mandate compliance especially for private companies,” Asi said. “The CDC so far is still only offering those little papers that some of your viewers might have already gotten. It does seem that these apps won’t actually set up who can travel. This is still going to be up to individual states and many states have not yet set policies into place.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he is opposed to the idea of a vaccine passport. Meanwhile, Governor David Ige of Hawaii said he is open to the idea.
Asi said there is a big difference in how the states are approaching the issue. She said Florida wants to encourage tourism, whether people who come here are vaccinated or not, while Hawaii wants to ensure that people who are flying into the state from other parts of the world do not add another surge of COVID cases to the area.
It could begin a vaccine passport program by May, but Asi said the state might not need one by then.
“You’re more likely to see, I think, in your town, a sporting venue or a concert hall or a specific airline or cruise line ask for some proof of vaccination before we see any real push out on the global scale,” Asi said. “And my hope is that we’ll have reached herd immunity by that time so these passports will be obsolete anyway.”