"Vaccine Passport” Certification — Policy and Ethical Considerations

As the Biden administration considers a national COVID-19 "vaccine passport" program, David Studdert, a professor of medicine at Stanford Health Policy and a professor of law at Stanford Law School, and Mark Hall, director of the Health Law and Policy Program at Wake Forest Law, consider the ethical and policy implications surrounding the idea.
Photo fo a U.S. passport with a vaccine bottle and syringe Getty Images

"As the Covid-19 pandemic enters its next phase, fervent desires to return to normalcy coupled with the rollout of efficacious vaccines have intensified discussions of “vaccine passports” — certifications of vaccination that reduce public health restrictions for their bearers," the authors write in this New England Journal of Medicine perspective. "The Biden administration, the British government, and the European Union are currently considering their feasibility; Australia, Denmark, and Sweden have committed to implementation; and Israel, which leads the world in per capita vaccination, is already issuing “green passes” to vaccinated residents. Although travel eligibility has been the primary focus to date, some use of passports to regulate access to social and recreational gatherings, workplaces, or schools appears imminent; Israel’s green passes, for instance, permit entry to otherwise restricted sites such as hotels, gyms, restaurants, theaters, and music venues, and New York’s “Excelsior Pass” permits attendance at theaters, arenas, event venues, and large weddings.

"The core rationale of these programs is that public health restrictions that limit freedoms and socially valuable activities should be tailored to verifiable risk. In general, such tailoring is not a controversial goal: it has long been a central principle of civil rights law and public health practice. The case for tailoring restrictions is especially compelling when the restrictions are harsh, when widespread public sentiment demands some relaxation, and when relaxing the restrictions would most likely be safe for some identifiable people but not for everyone."

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David Studdert

David Studdert

Professor of Medicine, Professor of Law
Explores how the legal system impacts health and populations.

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