Biden administration may consider 'vaccine passports' for interstate travel

The Biden administration said they would work with businesses to create a vaccine credentialing system, but has repeatedly said that there would be no federal database of vaccine recipients.

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY

President Joe Biden really wants Americans to get vaccinated, and after rolling out all the stops, from free beer to free Uber rides to child care, the administration has plans to penalize those that either won't get the shot or don't feel obligated to prove to the government or businesses that they've gotten the shot.

The administration may consider creating vaccine requirements for interstate travel for citizens within the US.

The AP reports that "...while more severe measures — such as mandating vaccines for interstate travel or changing how the federal government reimburses treatment for those who are unvaccinated and become ill with COVID-19 — have been discussed, the administration worried that they would be too polarizing for the moment."

"That's not to say they won't be implemented in the future," the AP writes, "as public opinion continues to shift toward requiring vaccinations as a means to restore normalcy."

The Biden administration has forced many federal employees to vaccinate, and has urged US businesses to force their employees to get vaccinated as well, under penalty of losing their position or persistent COVID testing.

The Biden administration said they would work with businesses to create a vaccine credentialing system, but has repeatedly said that there would be no federal database of vaccine recipients.

Disney, United, and Google issued vaccine mandates for their employees. More than 600 colleges and universities are requiring the vaccine as well, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

"We are essentially saying there are different paths you can take, but the path that you cannot take is doing nothing—that's the one unacceptable position right now," said deputy director of strategic communication and engagement for Biden's COVID-19 response team Ben Wakana.

Georgetown Law took up the question of Americans' rights to travel freely within the United States under the Trump administration at the start of the pandemic. At the time, Americans in many parts of the country were asked to "lockdown" for two week and to "slow the spread" so that when Americans got sick and ended up in the hospital, they didn't all end up there at once, overwhelming the medical infrastructure.

Meryl Chertoff, Executive Director, SALPAL writes: "The right of Americans to travel interstate in the United States has never been substantially judicially questioned or limited. In 1941, the Court declared unconstitutional California's restriction upon the migration of the 'Okies'—whose travails are famously documented in 'The Grapes of Wrath.' Justice Douglas referred to 'the right of free movement' as 'a right of national citizenship,' and the rights of the migrants were upheld under the Commerce Clause."

"The Privileges and Immunities Clause protects the rights of US citizens," Chertoff goes on to say, "who are each also the citizens of a state, against discriminatory treatment under the law of a different state. In a 1985 case, the Court found that the Privileges and Immunities clause prohibited discrimination against a non-resident except where (i) there is a substantial reason for the difference in treatment; and (ii) the discrimination practiced against nonresidents bears a substantial relationship to the State's objective. In deciding whether the discrimination bears a close or substantial relationship to the State's objective, the Court has considered the availability of less restrictive means."

"The baseline, then, is that freedom of movement within and between states is Constitutionally protected," Chertoff concluded.

On Thursday, the CDC was asked outright what they would be doing to make sure that counterfeit vaccine cards were not in circulation, and if they've reconsidered creating a federalized system to track vaccine recipients and issue identification for the vaccinated to enable them to move freely through society while those who don't have the credential are shut out from public life.

Biden administration COVID spokesperson Jeff Zients was asked "Is the administration reconsidering something like a QR code, or a passport, to help verify people's vaccination status and if not, what are you doing to stop the proliferation of fake vaccine cards?"

"There are a number of ways people can demonstrate their vaccination status," Zeints said. "Companies and organizations and the federal government are taking different approaches, and we applaud this innovation."

"Through vaccination requirements, employers have the power to help end the pandemic," Zients said.

But, Zients said, "There will be no federal vaccination database as with all other vaccines, the information gets held at the state and local level. Any system that is developed in the private sector or elsewhere must meet key standards, including affordability, being available both digitally and on paper, and most importantly protecting people's privacy and security."

Biden said on Thursday "I know there are a lot of people out there trying to turn a public safety measure, that is children wearing masks in school so they can be safe, into a political dispute. And this isn't about politics. It's about keeping our children safe."

"I saw a video and reports from Tennessee, protestors threatening doctors and nurses, who before a school board were making the case that to keep kids safe there should be mandatory masks. And as they walked out these doctors were threatened, nurses were threatened. Our health care workers are heroes. They are the heroes when there was no vaccine. They're doing their best to care for the people who are refusing to get vaccinated," Biden said.

"And unvaccinated folks are being hospitalized and dying as a result of not being vaccinated," the president continued, harkening back to his statement that COVID is now a "pandemic of the unvaccinated."

"To the mayors, school superintendents, local leaders," he said, "who are standing up to the governors who are politicizing mask protection for our kids, thank you, thank you as well. Thank God that we have heroes like you. And I stand with you all, and America should as well."


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