o-point/counterpoint

With “vaccine passports” popping up in American cities like New York City and San Francisco, the long-awaited proof-of-vaccination requirement has now become more than an idea.

As early as March 2021, the Biden administration announced it was working on developing ‘vaccine passports’ as the mass COVID-19 vaccine rollout began. Naturally, this announcement was met with alarm by many right-wing politicians and media pundits. However, Black Lives Matter and the American Civil Liberties Union, both progressive organizations, have also expressed recent concerns over vaccine passports. Meanwhile, Fox News is actively enforcing one. 

As a vaccinated person, any vaccine passport requirements are unlikely to affect me directly. Other than mask wearing and the Safer Community app, life has pretty much returned to normal at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and an extra proof of vaccination for businesses and government services would not be much of a burden for me.

Still, I feel uneasy about the idea of vaccine passports indefinitely separating society into groups with different privileges, especially because vaccine requirements end up re-segregating America in a way that once again falls along racial lines. 

Despite the prevailing narrative that only white MAGA-loving individuals are still unvaccinated, Black and Hispanic individuals are currently vaccinated at a lower rate than white people. Additionally, lower-income people are less likely to be vaccinated than their middle and upper-class peers. Nebraska only has vaccination data broken down by race available from May 24, but at that time, 47% of whites were vaccinated, compared to just 30.5% of Blacks and 29.2% of Hispanics. 

This means that only allowing vaccinated individuals to interact in society’s business and cultural institutions creates further divides.

If a vaccine is required for any indoor public activities, that would also have to include in-person voting. If requiring voter ID fuels racial inequality at the ballot box, then so would requiring proof of vaccination in order to vote in person, possibly to an even greater extent, given that less than half of Black Americans are vaccinated compared to the 13% of Black Americans without photo ID as of 2015. 

Some may consider this requirement to be a temporary emergency measure, but experts are becoming increasingly certain that COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon, if at all. 

I do believe our communities would be healthier and safer if everyone were vaccinated, and I am not alone in that assumption, but that doesn’t mean that vaccine passports are the best way to encourage vaccination. Instead of social isolation and ostracization, unvaccinated Americans still need to be treated with respect while also being encouraged to get a vaccine. 

There is a precedent for vaccine mandates in schools, but there are opportunities for religious and philosophical exemptions, an aspect which is not part of most vaccine passport plans. 

Some vaccinations are also required for overseas travel, and I would be in favor of using this mandate as a reasonable requirement to fight COVID-19. 

Vaccinations are a great tool against COVID-19 and I would encourage as many people getting vaccinated as possible. However, requiring proof of vaccination for participation in society, especially when it comes to voting rights and access to government, is the wrong approach. 

Proof of vaccination could provide a marginal benefit at best, but there are better ways to tackle the pandemic than inadvertently excluding a large number of marginalized people from society. 

Look at the facts. Get vaccinated. And, as I’ve been saying since February 2020, wash your hands. 

Brian Beach is a junior journalism major. Reach him at brianbeach@dailynebraskan.com