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Health Care

Biden’s Pandemic Adviser: We’re Never Going to Create Federal ‘Vaccine Passports’

Naomi Hassebroek receives her second COVID-19 vaccine at NYC Health+Hospitals Gotham Health Sydenham in New York City, March 29, 2021. (Caitlin Ochs/Reuters)

You can be forgiven for not putting too much stock into sweeping statements and promises from this administration, but for what it’s worth, Jeffrey Zients, Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, slammed the door shut on any federally run vaccine passport program today:

Let me be clear that the government is not now, nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential.  There’ll be no federal vaccination database, no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.

As these tools are being considered by the private and not-for-profit sectors, our interest is simple, and that’s about protecting Americans’ privacy and their rights so the systems aren’t used unfairly.

Any vaccine passport program would be exceptionally difficult to develop and run, short of simply asking people entering a particular building or location to show their vaccination cards. (Vaccination cards are easily forged, apparently.) A vaccine passport would not technically violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, as an individual would be (presumably) voluntarily sharing this health information with private and nonprofit institutions. But doctors, hospitals, and medical providers would not be able to share information on who is vaccinated and who isn’t, as the HIPAA privacy rule covers all “individually identifiable health information.”

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