Rekha Basu: I’ve had a vaccine ‘passport’ since childhood. What’s all the fuss about? –

Posted: April 19, 2021 at 6:56 am

"That is not normal. That's not what we do in America," Iowa state Sen.Jack Whitver declared emphatically on last week's "Iowa Press" interview show.

I was washing dishesand had missedthe lead-in, but caught the emotion in hisvoice. What unacceptable behavior was theleader of majority Republicans in the Senate denouncing? Was someone driving on a neighbor's lawn? Swearing in church? Giving illegal drugs to a child?

I re-wound to get the context. The senator from Ankeny had beentalking about COVID-19 and the hope for achieving herd immunity to getlife back to normal."I would encourage anyone that is able and willing, to get vaccinated,"he'd said, observing that Iowa had made tremendous progress,with some 23% of people having been fully vaccinated as of then.

So far, so good.

Then Whitver's tone changed."Thegovernment is issuing some sort of piece of paper or smartphone app to prove you've been vaccinated," he said indignantly. "We want to get back to normal, but not this new society where you have to show a piece of paper. That is not normal. That's not what we do in America."

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds had previously been even more vocal against such a thing.While she alsoencourages people to get vaccinated, saying, "I believe in the efficacy of the vaccine," she draws the line at so-called "vaccine passports."

Gov. Reynolds stated she opposes vaccine passports and that Iowa "must take a stand as a state against them." Des Moines Register

"I believe that we must take a stand as a state against them, with executive action or through legislation," she said at a news conference.

As I write thisI'm looking down at the old yellow-pagedpassport-size booklet that I've carted around for 33 years.It's called an "International Certificate of Vaccination as approved by the World Health Organization" and issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It carries my name, sex and date of birth (I neglected to fill in my address) and has a log of my travel vaccinations since 1988 when my home was in New York state. There's typhoid and immune globulin (2-10-88), typhoid, cholera and something else I can't make out (2-7-89), andthe names of the doctors who administered them. That certificate was replaced by one filled outby the Polk County Health Department in Iowa, with thestamp, "Official Vaccination Iowa."

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Is this what Whitver and Reynolds areafraid of? I've had one literally since soon after I was born, since my parents crossed continents often. It let officials in those countriesknow my vaccines were up to date. But mostly, I got the vaccines to ward off outbreaks of diseases in the areas we were going to. Among other things, the certificates served asreminders of whichvaccines were due. Wenever considered them an imposition.

What's all the fuss over vaccine passports?(Photo: Rekha Basu/Des Moines Register)

So which government is Whitver talking about?None in America.The federal government has said itwill not mandate digital vaccine passportsfor COVID-19. In fact the federal government keeps no centralized database of Americans' vaccinations. States do that.New York is the only one to have developeda free digital health certificate, which verifiessomeone is fully vaccinated and tested negative;its use is optional.On the other side,Florida and Texas have used executive orders to ban businesses from requiring vaccination certificates, over concerns that they violateprivacy.

It's really businesses that are asking for and requiring that proof, includingairlines, cruise lines and sporting event venues, and that's to keep people safe if they choose to go.The International Air Transport Association is nowtesting a travel pass onto whichpassengers can upload health credentials necessary for international travel.

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None of that is government interference. It's only if you choose to travel.Andwhile states have legal authority to legislatively restrict whatbusinesses can do,there's some question about whether they can do it by executive order.The only thing Reynolds may could indisputablyorder would be toforbid county and local governments from issuing vaccine passports notthat there's been any move to do so.

Like every other state, Iowa does require proof of vaccination for children to attend public schools, as well it should.And whileIowa'sthree public universities require proof ofmumps, measles and rubella vaccinations to enroll (with medical or religious exemptions),the Iowa Board of Regents won't require students or employees at to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend. Why not? The private Grinnell Collegewill.

The New York Times reports thatIsraeli residents are required to show an electronic Green Pass to attendgyms, concerts and indoor restaurants.Israel plans to require foreign visitors to take a blood test upon arrival, to be replaced withvaccine certificates once available. TheEuropean Union has endorsed the idea of an electronic vaccine certificate, though European countries can choose for themselves.

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Just as people suspicious ofgovernment mandates recoiled at the idea of mandatory masks, some are now jumping on the vaccine reporting techniquesto stir upfears about an invasion of privacy.

It's worth emphasizing that both Whitver and Reynolds encourage Iowans to get vaccinated. Reynolds, though, has done so, whileWhitver hasn't.Asked about it on TV, he said hethought more vulnerable populations should get it first. Reynolds got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. After officials announced that it had beenassociated with blood clots in a small number of people, Reynolds said thatshe'd do it again.

Everyone is free tomake their own health choices, but her leadership by example ismore compelling advocacy than mereencouragement of an act to benefit public health.

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Further, it's both misleading and harmful to suggest that the federalgovernment is forcing anything like vaccine passports on Americans.Former U.S. Rep.Ron Paul, a Republican fromTexas, tweeted of such documentation, Accepting them means accepting the false idea that government owns your life, body and freedom. Wow.

Maybe pointing out that the issue is not about government but instead about private businesses wouldn't serve the political agenda and could alienate industries in Republican politicians'bases. But distorting the truth shouldn't be what we do in America, either.

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