The Absurdity of Vaccine Passports

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Best case scenario they don’t function


I recently found out that I will be eligible to get a vaccine in the next phase, here in Ontario, meaning it’s possible I could get my first shot in April. Sometimes there are benefits to having a chronic illness and compromised immune system.

One of my first thoughts, ironically, was whether I’d be able to stream getting the shot. Or how I’d post about it on social media. It was a petty and silly sentiment, that reflected a subconscious understanding of the social messaging and political posturing currently taking place around the vaccines.

The science of vaccination works, and is worth promoting. The more people who get the vaccine, the more effective it will be.

However vaccines are not magic wands, and I continue to resent the focus we’re placing upon it as a solution to the pandemic when I remain skeptical that it will accomplish all that we wish it will.

In addition to the subconscious conformity of believing I should promote the moment I get a shot, there was a secondary thought as to how it will be documented. That I might need proof that I got one?!

This concept of a vaccine passport has been making the rounds of technology and policy circles for months. It’s been fueled by a technological determinism that has compelled people to argue that it is inevitable.

Yet is it really? Arguably not, yet as we discussed yesterday, sometimes predictions act as self-fulfilling prophecies, targets to fixate upon as a way to reach a desired destination.

The title of this article is itself misleading, as it evokes the technological determinism driving this story.

Yet the other or larger element of this story is the surrounding conspiracy. If the primary goal is to encourage people to get vaccines, then focusing on the secondary, proving they have had one, is irrelevant if doing so further discourages trust in the vaccine process.

Just searching for a tweet that links to this article was near impossible given the traffic currently taking place on Twitter around this search term. More on that in a moment, let’s first take a look at a few key points from the article above:

The passports are expected to be free and available through applications for smartphones, which could display a scannable code similar to an airline boarding pass. Americans without smartphone access should be able to print out the passports, developers have said.

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.

U.S. officials say they are grappling with an array of challenges, including data privacy and health-care equity. They want to make sure all Americans will be able to get credentials that prove they have been vaccinated, but also want to set up systems that are not easily hacked or passports that cannot be counterfeited, given that forgeries are already starting to appear.

There’s a reason that most governments do not have robust digital identification infrastructure. The risks are substantial, and the tolerance for failure is near zero. It’s one thing when a modest social media company has a breach or hack, if a government were to have such an incident heads could literally roll.

Hence why the idea that these systems could be done in an emergency and in a rapid timeline should be met with skepticism.

Taking time to get the credentialing project right “is very, very important because this has a high likelihood of being either built wrong, used wrong or a bureaucratic mess,” said one official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the effort. The official said some of the considerations include how to adjust for the spread of variants, how booster shots would be tracked and even questions about how long immunity lasts after getting a shot. There’s “a lot to think through,” the official said.

The virus is dynamic and evolving, should a vaccine passport not also have similar qualities?

Anticipating this, I speculated last year that rather than a passport, we might see something a kin to a social credit score:

I still expect such a system to be proposed, but there’s also recognition that this would not fly well with the public.

For example if you search Twitter for vaccine passport as I mentioned earlier, you will be hard pressed to find anything other than fear and derision. Some of it legitimate criticism, much of it server larger fear and conspiracy based agendas.

Yet the reality remains that demand for some kind of proof of vaccination or virus immunity is high, and there’s growing diplomatic pressure for countries to create systems that can be recognized if and when people cross borders.

Add to this professional sports, movies, theatre, events, and a wide range of industries that are desperate to resume normal business operations and (foolishly) believe that a vaccine passport will make that possible.

Unfortunately it’s not at all clear as to whether the virus itself will cooperate, and make such designation of vulnerability or immunity possible. That’s a dynamic people are not yet willing to acknowledge. For example we have been unable to achieve such control of influenza, why would coronavirus be easier?

Instead we risk diverting attention from necessary public health measures. Just as with automatic contact tracing apps, which in North America were a complete failure, the attention placed on technology came at the expense of public health process and credibility.

The argument that vaccine passports encourage people to get vaccines is weak, and sadly not supported by evidence. Instead it will reinforce the faith of holdouts who believe they’re standing up for freedom and against government overreach (and incompetence). Not to mention the role of corporations in driving this bad (techno health) policy.

What vaccine passports do reveal is the thin veneer of “we’re all in this together”. We’re not in this together in so far as those who are able to get vaccines are all of a sudden quite happy to leave everyone else behind as they rush forward in the belief that they are no longer vulnerable.

Although that’s not how herd immunity works. In so far as there is enough people who are not vaccinated, who can provide hosts for the virus to mutate, we all remain vulnerable, to a virus that is far more dynamic and capable than our institutions or narcissistic culture.

Instead of vaccine passports we should be focused on tracing, containing, and ending this pandemic by focusing on immunity for all, by all means necessary.

2 thoughts on “The Absurdity of Vaccine Passports

  1. During my life I have been vaxed for most things but I won’t be getting the covid vax. It is minimally tested and was rushed. It is for an illness with low lethality. You showed Simone gold comment on your show. Check out this video of her about her views. Vaccines can cause harm and should never be rushed. No vax has ever before been produced for a coronavirus. Attempts have lead to dead ends for the animals in the trials. You’re a good guy Jesse. Don’t be in a hurry to get the shot. I don’t know this Bolen guy but the 3 vids of the women if you scroll down are worthwhile… not sure about HP.

  2. Jesse,
    According to the above pre-print, SARS-Cov-2 is now infecting “common lab mice.”
    If a) it’s true and b) by common, they mean the non-gene edited variety without human ACE2 receptors, there won’t ever be herd immunity.
    I dunno how your farm is, but mine is drowning in mice these days (and last week’s floods don’t seem to have dented the numbers either).
    However you look at it, that’s a hell of a lot of reservoir hosts…

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