Vaccine passports are coming, because businesses like money and Americans like not dying


Conspiracy crackpot Marjorie Taylor Greene practically threw herself onto that particular fire with comparisons between “vaccine passports” and the Book of Revelation, while Florida governor, Donald Trump cosplayer, and actual antichrist Ron DeSantis bellowed that no industry in his state would get away with trying to save people’s lives. Ron has spent the entirety of the pandemic promoting himself as a new Great Leader, complete with victory laps before and after each new Florida case surge. Any suggestion that his pandemic-dismissing supporters might actually face real-world consequences for refusing to follow health rules threatens to tarnish his self-image of someone who can simply bully the virus into nonexistence through sheer autocratic will.

Unfortunately for Ron and the ever-self-immolating Greene, it looks like common sense and the omnipresent corporate desire to not be sued into oblivion might win this round. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination looks like it will become a commonplace requirement among state institutions and private business alike in the coming months because, again, it is the only plausible way to lift emergency pandemic restrictions against large-scale gatherings that have currently shuttered tourism-dependent industries, trade shows, and everything else involving large sums of money provided by large crowds of people. Hawaii has announced plans to allow visitors to bypass onerous quarantine rules on proof of vaccination. There’s no real debate that private venues such as concert halls, theme parks, and theaters can require guests to show vaccination proof before entry, even as Republican governors are attempting to intimidate state businesses into dropping such plans via executive order.

The biggest question is what will constitute “proof” of vaccination. In many cases, it will be the card provided by vaccine administrators. Many Americans would much prefer a smartphone-based app that does the proving, and private companies are rushing to fill that void—leading, of course, to the usual potential headaches of privacy violations or competing standards.

That means that for the immediate future, you’re likely to need to check with each specific business or state office to see what method of vaccination proof they expect you to use. Expect these things to be a bit confusing until the standards are worked out. As for the next question, whether those standards will be made sufficiently private and universal enough to be more useful than your physical vaccination card before the number of vaccinated Americans reaches a “herd immunity” that lessens the need to ask each individual American for vaccine proof? That’s difficult to answer. In an ideal world, near-universal vaccination would so limit virus spread that not even masks are required in the nearish future. In the real world, vaccine hesitancy may delay the date that happens indefinitely. And with every passing month of non-immunity, the likelihood increases of new virus variants that can evade current vaccines, requiring the world cycle of quarantine, mass shutdowns, and new vaccinations to start from near-scratch.

Proof of vaccination requirements will be coming to businesses near you, however, and may even be required before returning to in-office work for those fortunate enough to have been transitioned to work-from-home status by their employers. That is not in question. It is the only plausible way large businesses can “open up” and begin taking in pre-pandemic numbers of customers without making themselves vectors for further virus transmission, and the laws of money will encourage those venues to reopen the very moment they can see a path to doing so.

Smaller businesses, like grocery stores and restaurants, are still less likely to impose such requirements because of the ever-present risk of belligerent denialist customers throwing a fit at employees or turning violent. Your local convention center has an armed security force willing to manhandle vaccine policy objectors out the door and/or into a waiting police van. Your local mom and pop business doesn’t.

Those businesses could can a significant degree of safety from states mandating proof-of-vaccination as condition for business reopenings by force of law, but Republican governors, in particular, would rather have pandemic deniers attacking minimum wage workers than the same pandemic deniers criticizing them; look for the pandemic to remain alive and well in each state in rough proportion to how much that state’s governor believes themselves to be a Republican presidential prospect.

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