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Vaccine passports demand you trade your privacy for trust

By Matthew Delaney 

The Covid-19 pandemic is ending “trust fall”-style as the U.S. lifts restrictions with no strings attached. But first, those holding their arms out to catch us want to make sure we can be trusted. That’s coming in the form of vaccine passport advocacy. 

The vaccine passport may bring peace of mind to some. But the new form of ID also coerces our privacy-starved culture. It makes us give even more of ourselves to the public domain before we’re allowed to enjoy our lives again. 

President Joe Biden declared last week that vaccinated people will no longer have to avoid crowds, socially distance, or wear a mask in any setting. Basically, once you get your shots, the pandemic is over for you.  

Or as Biden’s Twitter account oh-so-delicately put it, “The rule is now simple: get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do. The choice is yours.” 

But this new “rule” lacks teeth. For instance, the Biden administration previously said it won’t mandate vaccine passports from the federal level.  

Astute observers also noted that dropping Covid restrictions for vaxxers was more about diverting attention away from Biden’s atrocious week. A week where gas lines and a horrendous jobs report dominated the news. Regardless, understanding the context of this political flip-flop doesn’t calm the uneasiness we still feel.  

We’ve endured a year of programming where distrusting each other became the norm. You couldn’t get within arm’s reach of a stranger or even show them your face without thinking you were killing someone’s grandma. 

That’s a psychological effect we haven’t totally digested yet. It’s also one carrying over into the media’s harried calls for vaccine passports.  

To be fair, there’s plenty of big box retailers and grocers opting for the honor system when it comes to unmasked entry. Examples include Trader Joe’s, Best Buy, Costco and Starbucks.  

Their official policy states that only vaccinated customers can come in their stores without abiding by Covid protocols. So, they’re not asking for proof of vaccination. Instead, they’re relying on honesty about your vaccination status. 

Even businesses without an official policy are relaxing their Covid precautions. In my own field research, I’ve walked into multiple mini-marts, restaurants, a large retail chain store, a large coffee chain, and three grocery stores without a mask.  

In that time, only one grocery store employee asked me to wear a mask. That happened after I already walked by plenty of employees who ignored me too.  

(You’ll be shocked to learn that the person who asked me to wear a mask was a 20-somethings female cashier with a pixie cut and dyed blonde hair. I wasn’t even facing her; I simply passed by her line while she was checking out other people’s stuff. The busybodies of my generation have this very particular look to them) 

The busybodies of our society also have a very particular look to them — mainstream media. It didn’t take long for largely liberal media members to remind us how little trust they have in the common man. 

Katie S. Phang, a legal contributor to MSNBC, pondered, “Sooo…how does one tell the difference between a fully vaccinated person and a not vaccinated person?” Dr. Leana Wen penned a Washington Post column arguing that the CDC should’ve tied relaxed Covid restrictions to vaccine passports.  

Vox’s German Lopez had the snakiest piece. He pitched vaccine passports as “a quicker, safer path back to pre-pandemic normal.” Presumably, however, the temporary new ID card will somehow stick around after its expiration date just like the TSA. 

He later said, “But in a longer-term view, vaccine passports actually unlock more freedom — by safely and quickly returning to that pre-pandemic normal.”    

So, you need a new form of ID to enjoy freedoms you spent years or even decades having without a second thought. That’s the “pre-pandemic normal” to Lopez. 

Luckily there’s people like author Jill Filipovic who cut to the chase. She demanded vaccine passports, saying, “If you don’t want to get vaccinated, that’s your right. But it’s not your right to go to a concert, bar, restaurant, or large event.” 

How many of these journalists would support vaccine passports if Donald Trump was still president? Better yet: how many of them would forgo vaccinations because it came from his administration? The dishonest nature of politics is the gift that keeps on giving. 

Regardless, anyone in the medical field — as Dr. Wen showed — isn’t fond of returning without some guarantee of their own safety either. A plethora of epidemiologists surveyed said that everyone needs to wear a mask for at least another year.  

In a local magazine’s piece about area businesses optionally adopting vaccine passports, the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia’s vaccine expert said, “What about the past year tells you that adults are out there doing what they should be doing?”  

He continued. “We couldn’t even get a significant part of the population to wear masks. There’s still so much denialism. And we are still in a pandemic. So no, I don’t trust my neighbor to do the right thing.” [emphasis added]. 

And there you have it. People with high profile positions or credentials on TV or in newspapers don’t trust us commoners to act responsibly. Because of that, you need to divulge some of your most personal details to accommodate their neurosis.  

Never mind that even the most trusted public health official, Dr. Anthony Fauci, admitted his continued mask wearing post-vaccination was more about not wanting to send “mixed signals” than anything to do with science. Never mind, too, that vaccine passports would impact the marginalized groups these tastemakers supposedly care so much about. 

Now your privacy is a necessary casualty on the march to maintain these peoples’ comfort.  

If you’re confused about what the big deal is, compare vaccine passports to driver’s licenses. 

Driving is the most dangerous activity we do on a daily basis. In order to drive, you have to earn permission from the government with a license. That’s important because unlicensed drivers are typically more dangerous

Throughout the pandemic, people treated every mundane activity as a fatal risk because the virus transmits so stealthily. In order to demonstrate you’re not a risk to others, you should get an ID card from the government. That’s important to do because people who aren’t vaccinated have a higher chance of spreading Covid. 

There’s a key difference between them though. No one’s been told they need a driver’s license for the right to live as they please.  

At their core, vaccine passport arguments suggest that if you’re not willing to forfeit your privacy, your intent is to harm people. Does that sound like someone who deserves freedom?  

But the beauty of being free means we have the freedom to have privacy.  

That’s a struggle for a culture bombarded by personal details via reality TV and social media influencers. All that information has gradually worn down our perspective on the line between private and public.  

Aversion to vaccine passports should serve as a reminder. A reminder that we still have boundaries we want the government, businesses, and each other to respect. Abandoning those boundaries to prove you can live as you wish embodies how cancerous the distrust has become. 

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Matthew Delaney


Matthew Delaney is a local journalist based in Washington, D.C. When he’s not questioning why he joined the media, he’s doing his part to restore some of its credibility with quality work

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