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Vaccine passports are bad idea

Pennsylvanian Republican legislators are vowing to make a preemptive strike to take out the idea of vaccine passports before the concept gets a head of steam.

“We have constitutional rights and health privacy laws for a reason,” said Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, a Republican. “They should not cease to exist in a time of crisis. These passports may start with COVID-19, but where will they end?”

Gov. Tom Wolf has been flip-flopping on whether to support the concept. He was originally neutral to the idea, then he began to embrace it more enthusiastically but now has backed off and said he doesn’t see Pennsylvania getting into this kind of bureaucratic undertaking, which is great to hear. Wolf said it’s up to businesses to decide criteria for entry into their premises.

Some Republican governors, including Ron DeSantis of Florida, have already issued executive orders banning businesses from making this a requirement. Only New York state, in conjunction with a private contractor, has moved significantly toward vaccine passports.

The Biden administration and private companies also are at work to develop a way to handle these credentials. The effort has gained momentum with Biden’s pledge that the nation will start to regain normalcy this summer and with a growing number of companies from sports teams to cruise lines indicating that they will require proof of vaccinations before fully reopening their facilities. We are sure to see another political battle royal developing over personal freedom.

According to The Washington Post, other countries are racing ahead with their own passport plans, with the European Union pledging to release digital certificates that would allow for summer travel.

There are many who support the idea of a vaccine passport, which would prove that you have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

I am not one of them. It’s a poor idea that is another bureaucratic and intrusive foot in the door that will ultimately make our lives more complicated without providing the protections intended.

State Rep. Zach Mako, R-Northampton and Lehigh, agrees. “Whether to obtain the vaccine is a personal choice,” he said. “Requiring a ‘passport’ to prove vaccination status is a huge overreach into people’s personal lives, and especially into their private medical information.”

For one thing, we don’t even know how long these vaccines protect us. Pfizer and Moderna both announced recently that their two-dose vaccines are good for at least six months, but what happens after that?

Will we need annual booster shots, much like the flu preventive, or will there be some other pathway to immunization? None of this is clear at this point, so the idea of a vaccine passport, if nothing else, is premature.

The one thing you need to understand is that a government-enforced vaccine passport will trot out a huge new bureaucracy that will be another big-ticket financial expenditure. Think REAL ID, the identification program required by airlines to board their planes.

Just as other documentation, you can count on a major side business of counterfeiting and fraud, which will require oversight and surveillance, resulting in more financial consequences.

As with any large-scale mandated program, I am concerned about privacy and the ability of hackers to retrieve my information. After all, the number of government agencies and corporations that are trying to repair the damage done by foreign and domestic hackers is ongoing, and no one can give us assurances that our private information is safe.

I suspect that a vaccine passport would be a digital app on our smartphones. This means there would have to be a parallel program for those without the technology to be able to print out the documentation. This will be another nightmarish scenario for those who are not technologically adept. Think scheduling COVID-19 vaccine appointments.

At your favorite grocery store, you would have to scan your “passport” before entering. I can see the signs now: “No shirts, no shoes, no vaccine passports, no service.”

Scanning the app will provide a treasure trove of information for technology companies. Sure, it will tell which vaccines we have had but also where we go, where we shop and other information which we consider to be our business, not the government’s or anyone else’s.

Of course, we are already giving that information through our smartphones. I get a bit uneasy at the end of each month when my Samsung phone proudly summarizes where I have been during the previous month, and it does it with pinpoint accuracy.

My insurance company app tells me where I traveled to, how long it took and the quality of my driving skills - all to allow me to secure a discount on my insurance bill. Is the trade-off worth the loss of privacy?

If there is a passport, where does this leave those who choose not to get vaccinated, either out of personal choice, fear, for medical concerns or other reasons?

Among those who are most hesitant to get vaccinated are blacks, Hispanics and a large number of people who view themselves as conservatives. Are we going to tell wide swaths of the population that they can’t work or buy things because they choose not to participate in the vaccine program?

One of the great fears of libertarians is that this major technological undertaking will become a platform for a program where government can track our every movement. We’re already headed down this pothole-filled road with no real knowledge of where this will lead us.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.