We are now three months into the largest vaccination campaign in history, both on a national and global scale. And since we live in a time where we can’t seem to agree on anything – even how to rescue humanity from a global pandemic – there have predictably been a lot of opinions about how we should “deal” with those who choose to not get the COVID vaccine.
Now let us get a few key issues out of the way. Firstly, this analysis is going to be about those who choose not to get the vaccine, not those who are not medically cleared for it. Secondly, and more importantly, those who decline to get the vaccine are not your run-of-the-mill anti-vaxxers. Their reasoning is different from those who choose to believe that vaccines can cause autism. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), there are three basic reasons why someone would decline this vaccine. The first is political. The likeliness of getting the vaccine is heavily reliant upon who is in the Oval Office. We were able to see this in action back in November when faith in the vaccine seemingly switched on a dime. Prior to the election results, Republicans were more likely to trust the vaccine, and after the results, Democrats were more likely to do so. The second reason is the speed at which this particular vaccine was developed. People are concerned that a process that can normally take up to 11 years was completed in about eight months. Finally, we have the racial issue, wherein there is a strong distrust of the medical community among minorities, specifically the black population, due to historical injustices against Black Americans. Add to this the growing sentiment among Americans about the need for vaccines in the first place (led by anti-vaxxers), and the number of people refusing to receive the injections is far greater than any other vaccination campaign in history.
All this leads to about 20 percent of the population who are not likely to get the vaccine, and another 20 percent who are unsure, according to polling aggregate site FiveThirtyEight. So now that we have this wide swath of the country with their vaccination status in question, people have begun to discuss the possibility of a “vaccine passport,” where in order to be allowed to enter certain venues or be allowed back into society, they will have to prove that they have been vaccinated. A massive governmental effort would be needed to show that you have received the vaccine, and businesses will then allow only those with proof of immunity into their premises.
Such an effort is already underway in Israel. The Israeli government has issued their “green pass,” an app that shows if the user has had the vaccine and registered with the Israeli government. Users show the phones to businesses to prove that they have been vaccinated and are allowed in. The program is still pretty new, but is already spurring much debate in the political sphere here in the States. Should America adopt a vaccine passport system?
And as previously stated, the debate predictably falls evenly on party lines. For the most part, Democrats are pushing them as a necessary way of getting people both back into functioning society safely and quickly, and as a method of encouragement to get the vaccine. Republicans are fighting against it as a massive invasion of privacy, and discriminatory against those who opt to not get the vaccine, which would basically be a real-world version of Dr. Seuss’s The Sneetches.
Republicans will use the Democrats’ own stance on another hotly-debated issue against them. Democrats are unequivocally against requiring citizens to produce an ID to vote, yet would like to require them for literally every other aspect of public life. Part of me wonders what Democrats would say if we required a vaccine passport to vote.
But the question remains: Should America enforce a vaccine passport?
The short answer is yes, but in a very specific way. Let’s first address the fact that it seems to be working in Israel to some extent. Public places are being opened to vaccinated people, and there have been no major outbreaks at time of writing. But make no mistake. America is not Israel. Israel was founded as a place for Jews to live as a community. The whole country has a much more socialist feel than a free capitalist one. It is a nation created to be a place for Jews to live together. America was founded as a place for individuality to take precedence. Americans are individualistic in the way we have been raised. “As long as you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you.” The mentalities are different in their very nature. Americans don’t trust the government with their information as much as Israelis do (not that that trust is so high either), and are far less likely to go along with new invasions of privacy. So just because something works in Israel, doesn’t mean it will work in America.
Having said that, I would have no problem with a vaccine passport – with one extremely important caveat: The government cannot be involved in any way. They cannot develop the passport. They cannot require the passport. They cannot have access to the passport. The government must be removed from the process entirely. Private companies will have to determine if they will require their patrons to have it, and private companies must be the ones to develop them. Will this cause competition? Yes. Will there be issues with having the right passport for the right business? Probably. Will there be a possibility of black market and counterfeit passports? Well, that will probably happen either way.
I am vehemently in favor of getting the COVID vaccine. In fact, by the time you read this, I will probably have had my second shot. But there is absolutely no way that I will be giving my information over to prove that I have received the vaccine. I am not trading freedom for freedom. Throughout this year plus, we have already given up so much because our overlords have decided so. I will not willingly give up yet another. I don’t trust our government – federal, state, local – enough to willfully give over my medical information. I’d much rather there be a number of companies who have percentages of the population rather than one entity that has everyone’s. The pandemic has given our elected officials unprecedented power over us, and we have already seen the disastrous effects. Providing them with even more power and information is just compounding the danger.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.