Will you need a 'vaccine passport' in Virginia?

The short answer: A decision hasn't been made yet
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Posted at 11:46 AM, Apr 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-24 15:47:57-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- While the travel, entertainment and restaurant industries expand operations a parallel debate grows over the so-called "vaccine passport."

Essentially, it's proof of COVID-19 immunization in the form of a digital app or written certification. It could be used as a person's ticket into a crowded venue or business that only allows other vaccinated individuals inside.

Virginia's Vaccine Coordinator Doctor Danny Avula, said "It is an easier way to track people who have been vaccinated."

The concept is already utilized in some places in New York, but banned in several states -- including Texas and Florida.

Though Virginia hasn't taken a stance either way yet, Avula believes there are clear health pros and cons to the concept.

He said on one hand, the passports could help businesses reopen."For example, restaurants being capped at 50%, you could bump that up to 100% if everybody in the restaurant has proof of vaccination."

Additionally, Avula said,"The pros are that it is an easier way to track people who have been vaccinated, and it potentially allows some of the mitigation efforts that have been in place to loosen."

But he also points out a couple of downsides.

"One is that it exacerbates inequities if access to vaccine hasn't been equitable," Avula explained.

He went on to mention that the registration platforms for most pharmacies are internet based.

"That automatically disadvantages communities that don't have ready internet access," he said.

Avula also pointed to a concern that many people have expressed across the country -- the idea that vaccine passports are an infringement on individual rights.

"It's why states like Texas and Florida have banned this concept," Avula said.

But not all legal experts agree with that argument including Kevin Cope, an associate professor of law and public policy at the University of Virginia. He claims states can constitutionally allow vaccine passports.

"Because what a vaccine passport does is give people back some of their freedoms that have been temporarily taken away during the COVID pandemic," said Cope.

Cope recognized the legal effect of a ban in some states remains uncertain.

"It's interesting that states have taken such different directions on this," he said. "It's unclear that an executive order in certain states could prohibit a business, for example, from using a vaccine passport."

The professor also mentioned that vaccine certification in its simplest form is not a new concept.

"People already had these. If you went to school or enroll your child in daycare, you had to show some proof of vaccination," Cope said. "Or if you traveled to many African countries or the Caribbean, you needed to show a yellow card that showed a yellow fever vaccination."

However, the question of whether governments should be required to give vaccinated people certain exceptions to restrictions is more complicated, he said.

"A person who is subject to a restrictive lockdown could come to court and say, 'I've received my vaccination. You no longer have the right to restrict me, given that I'm no longer a threat,'" Cope explained.

Cope said it's hard to predict how U.S. courts would rule on that but that it's a plausible claim, not just in America, but in European countries and others around the globe.

White House leaders said there won't be any federal requirements for COVID vaccine certifications for domestic purposes.

In an article published by The New York Times, other experts said that the term “passport” is misleading since that implies that it is a government-issued document -- when it is actually more like vaccine verification that already exists in various contexts and forms for things like schools and summer camps.

In Virginia, Avula said the state should make a decision on them in the next week or so.