Why one expert is dismissing worries about vaccine ‘passports’

One expert believes the idea of a vaccine “passport” will be short lived, and he’s certainly not worried about it leading to any infringement on anybody’s rights.

Dr. Amesh Adalja is a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, who thinks that, even as more Americans become vaccinated against COVID-19, the topic of vaccine passports and how they could be used to exclude people from certain activities is overblown.

“The governments are not going to saying ‘you need to have a vaccine passport’ or anything like that,” said Adalja.

“You might see some businesses that say, ‘Well, if you’re vaccinated we’re not going to have you wear a mask or we’re going to have different capacity concerns,’ and I think that’s what you’d anticipate because the virus treats you differently if you’re vaccinated so other people can treat you differently.”

He said it’s possible private businesses could do things like have certain sections set aside for those who are vaccinated in places like concert halls or stadiums. But as more people get vaccinated every day he thinks this sort of discussion will end up becoming moot before you know it.

“It just reflects the fact that the vaccines are highly valuable and that they do change your life,” Adalja said. “People should want to get them and people will treat you differently and better when you get the vaccine in terms of your risk of transmitting COVID to somebody else.”

Adalja went on to say that you might see businesses be a little more lax when they’re dealing with vaccinated people.

“If I were somebody planning an event and everybody could be vaccinated there, the mitigation measures I would put in place would be much less than if I knew that there were going to be unvaccinated people there,” Adalja said.

He admits the one time you might need to use your vaccination card as a “passport” would be if you’re traveling to another country — whether it’s become vaccination levels there might not be as high or they have restrictions involving testing and quarantines in place for people traveling from other places.

But Dr. Adalja is also dismissive of the idea that any domestic governments will be using it to track people. After all, vaccination databases have existed for a long time already.

“The state has always known,” about vaccination records, whether it’s for COVID-19 or shots meant to prevent viruses like measles and mumps and even the flu.

“It’s all entered into a state immunization registry that most people in my field of infectious disease and public health have known have existed for a long time because we use those to understand vaccine coverage. I just think the general public had no idea this was occurring.”

He doesn’t think knowing who is and who isn’t vaccinated is a big deal, especially when it comes to tracking responses to infectious disease emergencies.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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