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Prospect of Vaccine Passports Gets Mixed Response - Leyla Doss

LEYLA DOSS, HOST: As more vaccines roll out, many countries - including the US and the European Union - are looking into digital vaccine passports. New York state recently created a vaccine passport in the form of a smartphone app, called Excelsior. Vaccine passports could make international travel and public indoor gatherings more secure. But there are concerns over privacy and fairness. I spoke to Dr. Arthur Caplan, Medical Ethics expert at NYU’s School of Medicine and asked him first what exactly is a vaccine passport.

CAPLAN: There really are two kinds of vaccine passports. One is what you use to travel internationally across national boundaries. We've had that in place for decades. Yellow fever is a problem in many countries. And they demand proof of vaccination against yellow fever to enter. It's been standard. It's been in place for a while. The other kind of passport is vaccine authentication, that's for inside a country, say inside the US. It's what you use to prove that you've been vaccinated if you want to get into a private business, a cruise ship or a sporting event.

DOSS: And what is the range of restrictions that a vaccine passport could put in place for people?

CAPLAN: Domestically, many, many businesses could demand them as a condition of working there. Others may say customers have to show vaccination to use the gym or get in a restaurant, or engage in activities, like going to a Broadway show or a concert. We've had many, many industries damaged by fear of getting COVID. If you go to, say, the show or the concert or the sporting event, the way to handle that is to say: everybody who works there is vaccinated, and everybody who's coming in here is going to be vaccinated. That's going to re-open those events more quickly, regain public trust to go. And I think you'll see a lot of that.

DOSS: And to jump on that, according to a study, the public is split 50 50% over vaccine passports and possibly also vaccines and it crosses ethnic, racial, and socio economic lines. So why do you think that is?

CAPLAN: Well, I think there is resistance to vaccine passports, but the real resistance is the vaccines. I don't think it's the fear of the passport. I think a lot of people are saying, Hey, I don't want to have to get vaccinated.

DOSS: So how do you think it could even get implemented? Let's say the federal government does agree. Do you think it's actually feasible?

CAPLAN: Well, the federal government will issue passports for international travel, they'll handle the international issue, but locally, for say New York, New York City, it's going to be the state. The states drive policy.

DOSS: And it seems like this crosses also political lines. It doesn't seem to be just only a blue or red issue. Why do you think that is?

CAPLAN: Vaccines are always controversial. Some right wing libertarian people don't want to be told what to do. And they want to resist vaccines plus many of them were influenced by Trump to believe that you don't need to do anything. That COVID is a hoax. I think the morgues and the graveyards refute that pretty thoroughly, but the belief is still out there. And then, you have poor people saying, “We don't trust vaccination, we're not sure it's safe. Was it really tested on us? Were these things rushed?”

DOSS: Right, and you know, if you were in Joe Biden shoes, you know, he must be dealing with a lot of decisions right now - what would you do?

CAPLAN: Well, I would start to get ready to issue an international vaccine passport so that travel can take place. I think if you look at other countries, Israel, Denmark, they're starting to do that. We should too. It's inevitable that we're going to have to have vaccine certification to travel, many other countries are going to demand it. And we're going to try to demand it for people who come here, we're not going to want people to come from Brazil or France, where COVID is out of control unless they have proved that they are vaccinated. So if I was Biden, I’d focus there and get that done.

DOSS: So that was Dr. Arthur Caplan, Medical Ethics expert at NYU School of Medicine. Thank you for speaking with us today.

CAPLAN: Thank you.


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