United States: the controversy swells around the idea of ​​a “vaccine passport”

With a vaccination campaign that continues to accelerate, the issue of a digital “vaccine passport” is becoming more and more concrete in the United States, despite growing political controversy and a fragmented health system that complicates everything. centralization of data.

Asher Weintraub, 17, was delighted to show off last Friday the new digital New York State “pass” that he downloaded to his smartphone, which, via a QR code, certifies that he is immune to the Covid.

“I think that’s good, you don’t have to show all kinds of documents every time,” he said, posting his code at the entrance to one of the first indoor shows in Manhattan since. March 2020.

Prompted by its democratic governor Andrew Cuomo, New York is for the moment the only American state to have launched such a “passport”, on a voluntary basis, in partnership with the technology giant IBM. Other governors, on the contrary, repudiate the idea.

Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis first signed an executive order on Friday banning state administration from issuing “any standardized document” to certify that a person has been vaccinated against Covid, and businesses from require their clients to provide proof of immunization, arguing that this “would reduce individual freedoms and undermine patient confidentiality”.

On Tuesday, his Republican counterpart in Texas, Greg Abbott, banned a series of organizations from requiring proof of vaccination, while in Pennsylvania, some elected Republicans are also pushing in this direction. The Republican governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, had judged the idea last week “anti-American”.

– No federal mandate –

Faced with this controversy, the Biden government intends to stay above this fray. On Tuesday again, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki assured that there would be “no federal obligation requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination certificate”. And that Washington would content itself with issuing recommendations to ensure that the systems developed are “fair” and guarantee confidentiality and data security.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki answers reporters’ questions on April 6, 2021, in Washington (AFP – Brendan Smialowski)

However, even without federal impetus, few Americans doubt that these digital means of certification will develop, in a world where smartphones have become an essential tool of everyday life. Many follow with interest the “Green Pass” adopted in Israel, where the vaccination campaign has been a model of speed.

Some non-governmental projects are therefore advancing. Alongside the New York “pass”, the Common Pass project, with global ambitions, seems the most advanced.

Launched by the non-profit organization Commons Project, specializing in the interconnection of digital health data, this “pass” is already used on a daily basis by a dozen international airlines, according to its director Paul Meyer.

Unlike the system designed for New York State, this platform is based on free, non-commercial software. “Neutral” and “secure” in terms of data protection, it is according to him “emerging as the standard” of a sector which promises to be in full expansion, with the progression of vaccination and the pressure to revive economic activity.

Discussions are underway with the European Union – which is working on a “green pass” that would allow free travel in the Schengen area – and separately, with several European governments, he said, without specifying which ones.

The establishment of such a digital passport is “simpler” than in the United States, he says: the generally public health systems of European countries already centralize health data, while in the United States, where the health system is essentially private and where each state has its health services, everything is “fragmented”.

– “Freedom regained” –

If American political polarization could hold back the development of the Common Pass, he admits, he hopes that the “freedom regained” argument – freedom to travel, to go to a baseball game or to go to the theater – that these “passes” must favor, will prevail.

A sign reminding Yankees fans to show proof of vaccination or negative Covid test at the entrance to Yankees stadium in New York on April 1, 2021 (AFP - TIMOTHY A. CLARY)

A sign reminding Yankees fans to show proof of vaccination or negative Covid test at the entrance to Yankees stadium in New York on April 1, 2021 (AFP – TIMOTHY A. CLARY)

Marcus Plescia, medical manager of the ASTHO association which brings together health officials from American states, also believes that “most people realize that a vaccination passport will be useful in at least certain situations”, and that ” restrictions will be different depending on whether you are vaccinated or not “.

For now, the discussion is still “a bit premature”, with only some 20 million Americans already fully immunized, he said. But he would not be surprised that an anti-Covid vaccination certificate will soon be required in schools – when anti-Covid vaccines have been approved for the youngest – as by some private employers.

“I think part of the reluctance will go away when people realize all the things they can do after they get vaccinated,” he says.

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