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Connor Wielgos is a freelance writer based in Illinois. This column was produced by The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.
During his primetime address to the nation in mid-March, President Joe Biden invoked a Rockwellian image of a post-pandemic United States. By this summer, he promised, we could again be gathering in small groups to enjoy barbecues in our backyards and fireworks on the Fourth of July. However, the nirvana of a healthy United States will likely come with a few strings attached.
Throughout the first year of COVID-19 wreaking havoc across the United States, we saw many governors drop the ball. Too many pundits and politicians downplayed the severity of the virus, including former President Donald Trump, who blatantly admitted as much during an interview with Bob Woodward. Now, with many people readily accepting such misinformation, the vaccine rollout begins alongside a surge of misinformation surrounding the still-dangerous virus.
Recent statewide reopening measures highlight this. Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida have rolled back critical mitigation policies in favor of boosting the economy. These measures, which completely remove mask mandates, serve as a disincentive for skeptics to take a COVID-19 vaccine. As any of them see it, life is already back to normal and the virus may be no worse than the flu.
Frankly, from the day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, we’ve seen widespread failure from the federal government. The system of simply leaving everything to the states didn’t work, leading to more than a half-million U.S. deaths, many of which could have been prevented.
Unfortunately, a similar system is being put into place with vaccinations. Once again, states have been left to fend for themselves, with potentially disastrous consequences. Confusion reigns across the country in regard to vaccine appointments, while possible criminal behavior has occurred, such as DeSantis allegedly prioritizing a wealthy Florida Keys neighborhood to elicit campaign donations.
Biden, who inherited a disastrous vaccine rollout plan from the previous administration, must now consider concrete, nationwide plans to transition into a safe, new normal.
Among the most promising proposals is a vaccine passport — essentially, a document given to vaccinated citizens to prove they’ve received their shots. This could give virus-weary Americans more confidence in entering a dark movie theater or a crowded airplane, while boosting the economy and health of all Americans.
While some may decry the idea of a vaccine passport as unconstitutional or dystopian, a form of vaccination certificate was employed during the U.S. smallpox outbreaks during the 20th century.
Additionally, the World Health Organization still distributes an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis for international travel. Even school boards across the country require students to obtain a number of vaccines before enrollment is granted.
What makes COVID-19 an exception?
The idea of a vaccination passport shows promise, so much so that it’s being piloted in New York. However, as seen with contact tracing, statewide efforts are ultimately ineffective when every single American is guaranteed the right to cross state lines.
To avoid the mistakes of his predecessor, Biden must make issuing vaccine passports a nationwide issue, using the full legal power of the federal government.