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Businesses work with US on vaccine-passport guidelines

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-04-06 10:14

Jake Lawler, 29, receives his coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine as vaccine eligibility expands to anyone over the age of 16 at the Bradfield Community Center through Health Partners of Western Ohio in Lima, Ohio, US, March 29, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

US businesses are working with the federal government to produce guidelines on vaccine passports that will determine whether employers will require them from employees to show proof of a coronavirus vaccine before they head back to work.

The country has vaccinated 165 million people as of Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At least 106,214,924 people have had one dose. And 61 million, 18 percent of the population, are fully vaccinated.

There is no consensus among private companies on how far they will go to get proof of a coronavirus vaccination. But a digital vaccine passport on a cell phone that displays a QR code would be an easy way for an employee to prove they have been vaccinated.

Now, Americans who receive any of the three CDC-authorized COVID-19 vaccines get a printed card that lists the vaccine that was used, date and location of vaccination.

President Joe Biden's administration is reportedly working with non-profits and technology companies to produce guidelines and standards that private businesses can follow if they want to implement vaccine passports, an official told CNN.

But White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there won't be a federal mandate or database showing who has been vaccinated. Instead, the effort is "focused on guidance".

Andy Slavitt, acting director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, added during a White House COVID-19 briefing: "This is going to hit all parts of society, and so naturally, the government is involved. But unlike other parts of the world, the government here is not viewing its role as the place to create a passport, nor a place to hold the data of — of citizens.

"We view this as something that the private sector is doing and will do. What's important to us, and we're leading an interagency process right now to go through these details, are that some important criteria be met with these credentials."

The US government's hands-off approach on mandating vaccine passports for Americans hasn't extended to federal agencies.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is "implementing a VA-issued vaccine credential", according to The Washington Post. The Department of Health and Human Services is working to shore up privacy and protections against fraud in vaccine passports.

More than 500,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. Supporters of vaccine passports say they will hasten a much anticipated return to normalcy. But there is opposition, especially from some Republicans.

Republican Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves told CNN on Sunday: "I don't think it's necessary, and I don't think it's a good thing to do in America."

Ron Paul, former Republican US senator from Texas, tweeted: "Vaccine passports must be stopped. Accepting them means accepting the false idea that government owns your life, body and freedom."

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order on Friday banning the use of COVID-19 passports in the state.

The order prohibits government departments from issuing a vaccine passport and stops businesses requiring one.

DeSantis, Republican, told a news conference: "It's completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society."

Republican Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene branded the potential vaccine passports "Biden's Mark of the Beast".

Technology company Microsoft and the World Health Organization have been pursuing a range of possible systems.

IBM worked with the state of New York to pilot the digital "Excelsior Pass'' used at Madison Square Garden. New York also has mandated that anyone who wants to attend a wedding must show proof of a vaccination or negative COVID-19 test.

TicketMaster is looking at the idea of letting vendors use vaccine passports to prove concertgoers have been vaccinated.

Carbon Health, which partnered with Los Angeles on its vaccination rollout, has a vaccine passport called Health Pass.

Other businesses — such as airlines and entertainment venues — are keen to implement vaccine passports.

The International Air Transport Association is testing a COVID-19 passport called the Travel Pass that shows digital proof of a vaccination.

Lufthansa announced last week that it's expanding use of its "CommonPass" app that shows a passenger's test results.

Walmart said that people who have been vaccinated at its stores are eligible to get a digital vaccine card.

Rutgers University in New Jersey announced it will require proof that a student has been vaccinated before attending class in person.

The digital proof of vaccinations is already in use in Israel. The European Union is developing a digital "green certificate".

The UK is currently looking into the possibility of vaccine passports, as are China and Japan.

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