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COVID-19 “vaccine passports” worry public health experts

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An man holds up his COVID-19 vaccine certificate.

Hold tight to that vaccine certificate, especially if you want to travel internationally. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

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More and more people are getting vaccinated, and some are even traveling.

Which has led to a debate over whether countries should require COVID-19 vaccination passports or IDs. 

The European Union is proposing a so-called Digital Green Pass so vaccinated people can move more freely. The Israeli government is already doing something similar.

President Joe Biden has asked government agencies to assess the feasibility of a vaccine certificate.  

But many are also raising alarm over the ethical questions such a policy brings up. 

Family vacation in Italy? Business trip to China? No problem. Just show me your COVID-19 vaccine certificate. 

This might be the future.

“I think it would certainly speed up the recovery of those sectors that have been slowed down or shut down because of risk of exposure to COVID,” said Glenn Melnick, a health economist at the University of Southern California.

Many worry about creating an underclass of unvaccinated people who also can’t travel. Dr. Wafaa el-Sadr at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health said the U.S. still has a lot of work to do.  

“I’m hopeful that if there’s a true commitment in this country to equity that we would be able to reach a point where we have been able to overcome the very real barriers that people are facing now in accessing vaccination,” she said. 

And if it’s going to happen, Jennifer Nuzzo at Johns Hopkins University said, universal verification systems will be needed.

“You are requiring countries to show proof of having provided something that is very hard to get, that can create incentives for perhaps not being completely transparent about what’s actually going on,” she said.

As other countries start to experiment with vaccine credentials, Americans who want to travel may have to participate.

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