White House rules out federal Covid-19 vaccine passports

The White House has insisted it will not introduce mandatory federal Covid-19 vaccine passports, as Republican resistance builds to any sort of vaccine certification system.

“The government is not now, nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said on Tuesday. “There will be no federal vaccinations database, no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”

However, officials were willing to work with private companies to help set standards for how such certificates could be used equitably, she added.

“As these tools are being considered by the private and non-profit sectors, our interest is very simple, from the federal government, which is Americans’ privacy and rights should be protected, so that these systems are not used against people unfairly,” Psaki said.

Governments around the world are ramping up vaccination programmes, with 16m doses being delivered each day. But the rapid progress in countries such as the US and UK has raised pressure to allow inoculated people to resume activities such as attending the theatre, eating out and flying internationally without restrictions.

The EU is working on plans to introduce an electronic vaccination certificate to help people move more freely around the bloc. Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, this week risked incurring the wrath of his own MPs after backing private sector attempts to introduce a similar scheme.

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday, however, that it did not support making vaccine passports a requirement for international travel, as there was not yet enough information on whether vaccinated people could transmit the disease.

In the US, there are at least 17 different initiatives under way by companies and non-governmental organisations to create some kind of vaccine credential, including one developed by IBM being used by New York state to help restart large events such as weddings and concerts.

Biden administration officials have been working with those organisations to develop a set of standards to regulate how any such certification might work.

But the growing momentum behind the idea has triggered a backlash among US conservatives, who argue their civil liberties are at risk.

Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida, last week banned government entities from issuing any kind of vaccine certificate, and businesses from requiring one. On Tuesday, Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, signed a similar order, forbidding any organisation that receives government money from requiring proof of vaccination before entry.

Donald Trump Jr, the son of the former president, wrote on Twitter: “If you’re a Republican in office and you’re not vocally and aggressively opposing ‘vaccine passports’ it may be time to find another career.”

The issue has become so politicised that some experts worried it could be hardening resistance among many conservatives to get vaccinated at all.

Polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation think-tank showed almost one-third of Republican voters said they did not intend to get vaccinated at all, with hesitancy having increased since the first vaccines were approved last year.

Brian Castrucci, chief executive of the de Beaumont Foundation, which has been researching Republican views on vaccines, said: “The way that we have talked about a vaccine passport has been challenging for Republicans who are already concerned about coercion and mandates.”

“The more we turn this into a political debate rather than an answer to a public health crisis, the further away we get from returning to normal life.”

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