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, the 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 are willing to work with private companies to help set standards for how such certificates could be used fairly, 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 their vaccination programmes, with 16m doses being delivered each day. But the rapid progress being made in countries such as the US and UK is generating pressure to allow inoculated people to resume activities such as attending the theatre, eating out and flying internationally without restrictions.
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The EU is working on plans to introduce an electronic vaccination certificate in an effort to help people move more freely around the bloc. Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, this week risked incurring the wrath of his own MPs after backing private sector attempts to introduce similar schemes there.
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 now at least 17 different initiatives by companies and non-governmental organisations to create some kind of vaccine credential, including one developed by IBM which is 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 regulating how any certification might work.
But the growing momentum behind the idea has triggered a backlash among American conservatives, who believe their civil liberties are at risk.
Ron DeSantis, the Republican Florida governor, last week issued an order banning 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 which is in receipt of government money from requiring proof of vaccination before entry.
Meanwhile Donald Trump Jr, the son of the former president, tweeted: “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 is becoming so politicised that some experts worry that it is hardening the resistance among many conservatives to get vaccinated at all.
Polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation think-tank shows nearly a third of Republican voters say they do 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 the 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.”