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COVID-19

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Opinion >  Column

Spin Control: Vaccine passports aren’t really a thing, but here’s an alternative

Cole Smith receives a Moderna variant vaccine shot from clinical research nurse Tigisty Girmay at Emory University's Hope Clinic, on Wednesday afternoon, March 31, 2021, in Decatur, Ga. Smith, who received Moderna's original vaccine a year ago in a first-stage study, said returning wasn’t a tough decision. “The earlier one, it was a great success and, you know, millions of people are getting vaccinated now. ... If we’re helping people with the old one, why not volunteer and help people with the new one?” (Ben Gray)
Cole Smith receives a Moderna variant vaccine shot from clinical research nurse Tigisty Girmay at Emory University's Hope Clinic, on Wednesday afternoon, March 31, 2021, in Decatur, Ga. Smith, who received Moderna's original vaccine a year ago in a first-stage study, said returning wasn’t a tough decision. “The earlier one, it was a great success and, you know, millions of people are getting vaccinated now. ... If we’re helping people with the old one, why not volunteer and help people with the new one?” (Ben Gray)

Although apparently no one in authority is proposing Washington issue COVID vaccine passports to those who get the shot, there are people fired up enough about such an edict that they are proposing such documentation be banned.

The government shouldn’t be telling people what medical decisions to make in order to do things like eat at a restaurant or drink in a bar, or travel within or across state boundaries, they say. And anyway, how would we know these are valid “passports” and not some fake piece of paper purchased online or printed from a dark web download?

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, recently introduced legislation to ban vaccine passports, calling it “an issue of growing urgency” and a “violation of civil and constitutional rights.”

This effort to vaccinate the state against vaccine passports has 20 cosponsors, including Spokane-area Republicans Mike Volz, Jenny Graham, Joe Schmick, Rob Chase and Bob McCaslin. But the Legislature is so far along in the 2021 session that Walsh conceded any action would have to wait until 2022.

To people familiar with travel outside of major industrialized nations and posh Caribbean beach resorts, this objection to vaccine verification may seem odd. If one travels to certain foreign countries, one is urged to be vaccinated against certain diseases, like cholera, typhoid or yellow fever. The goal is to protect both the traveler and persons they might infect after coming down with the disease while traveling or after returning home.

The medicines are noted on an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis, or yellow card, which might have to be shown at some point during the trip or upon return to the United States. If you don’t want to get the shots or take the medicine, you could be advised to skip some countries and might be banned from entering others.

But yellow cards, which are stamped and dated by the agency doing the inoculating, couldn’t be used as COVID passports as the World Health Organization does not currently recommend listing that vaccination on the certificate. That’s probably just as well, because many who object to COVID vaccine passports aren’t too fond of the WHO, either.

People vaccinated against COVID are given a card that lists the location and date of the shot, the type of vaccine administered and the lot number of the vial, which medical personnel would want to check should some unusual reaction occur. But those cards clearly aren’t designed to be carried constantly and whipped out frequently, being of fairly flimsy paper stock and a size too big to fit neatly into a wallet like a driver’s license or credit card. Laminating could protect them, but health experts advise against that because records of booster shots might be added in the future.

And as previously mentioned, they could be scanned, altered and printed if one were so inclined.

Rather than vaccine passports, the state should require clearly marked vaccinated and nonvaccinated areas in public facilities. There is, after all, a historic precedent in the smoking and nonsmoking sections restaurants once had to provide their customers. Younger readers may vaguely remember such arrangements before smoking was banned in public buildings; older readers might recall how some smokers insisted that ban was a violation of their rights.

Vaxxed and nonvaxxed sections would be in separate rooms or opposite ends of the business, with space to prevent cross contamination.

Large establishments, such as a sports facility, could have separate entrances and separate sections, such as vaxxed in left field and nonvaxxed in right field at T-Mobile Park. Nonvaxxed areas would start at 25% occupancy while vaxxed areas at 50%, with the figures going up or down proportionally for each as an area goes up or down in the reopening phases.

There would be no checking any documentation at the nonvaxxed entrance or for sitting in that section. If you say you’re not vaccinated, who’s to argue? But the prices should be slightly higher because anyone working the nonvaxxed area would deserve a bump in pay for hazardous duty and the chairs, tables and counters would have to be wiped down more frequently and vigorously.

For the vaxxed entrance, one might have to show the vaccine card, the string of daily texts from the CDC’s V-Safe vaccine checker asking about possible symptoms, or a photo from the person’s social media page about getting the shot, which so many of the vaccinated enjoy sharing.

Obviously, these could be counterfeit, but there would be a self-policing element to the system: People outspokenly opposed to being vaccinated would probably not be caught dead in a clearly marked vaxxed section even if they might be willing to risk death in the nonvax area.

Some vaccine opponents would likely complain separate but unequal facilities discriminate against them much the way whites-only facilities discriminated against Black Americans in the Jim Crow South.

There’s a difference, of course. Not being vaccinated is a choice and they could change it at any time.

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