The White House is clearly skittish.
“The government is not now nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Tuesday. “There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”
Last week, the chief technology officer of the Department of Health and Human Services held a conference call with state and local health officials, who are mystified by the administration’s reticence.
“It’s going to be necessary to have this, and there is going to have to be some kind of system where it’s verified,” said Dr. Marcus Plescia, the chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “I think everybody in our network is a little bit perplexed by the way the federal government seems to be at arm’s-length with this.”
Every state, in fact, already has a database, or an “immunization registry.” And under “data use agreements,” the states are required to share their registries with the C.D.C., though the agency de-identifies the information and not all states have agreed to provide it.
Politicians are already girding for a fight.
On Sunday, Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi said he opposes the idea of vaccine passports, and last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida issued an executive order banning policies that would require customers to provide any proof of vaccination. Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska has said his state would not participate in any vaccine passport program.
The political and cultural divide aside, vaccine passports do raise daunting political, ethical and privilege questions.
In 1905, the Supreme Court ruled that states can enforce compulsory vaccination laws. “A community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members,” Justice John Marshal Harlan wrote in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the 1905 case. For more than a century, that ruling has allowed public schools to require proof of vaccinations of its students, with some exceptions for religious objections.