White House Defers to Private Companies on Vaccine Passports

April 09, 2021

After stating it will not get involved in any vaccine passport system, the White House has deferred to private companies on whether they will require proof that individuals have received the coronavirus vaccine.

The White House will provide guidance about privacy concerns in the future but will not play a role in the development or implementation of a vaccine passport system.  Press Secretary Jen Psaki said "The government is not now, nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential. There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential." 

Ethical and legal questions surround businesses as they consider whether they can, or should, require proof of vaccination from customers and employees when they do not mandate vaccination for employees.  The concept of requiring vaccinations for entry to school or travel is not new, and some colleges and universities will require proof of vaccination to return to campus.  While private companies can refuse to employ or do business with those that are not vaccinated, states may pass laws barring these requirements.  For example, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas and Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida have both signed executive orders barring state entities or companies that receive state funding from requiring proof of vaccination. 

Issues of equity raise ethical concerns around proof of vaccination.  The latest Kaiser data shows that, consistent with prior weeks, Black and Hispanic people are receiving smaller shares of COVID-19 vaccines compared to their share of cases and deaths as well as compared to the total population.  Requiring proof of vaccination to participate in everyday activities may further negatively impact these communities that are already disproportionately hurting from the pandemic.  From a global perspective, a vaccine passport system will likely open travel to people from high-income countries while cutting off those from the world’s poorest nations.  For this reason, the World Health Organization has stated it does not support mandatory proof of vaccination for international travel.

Will requiring vaccines hurt or help business?  Businesses have started weighing whether they will require employees and customers to provide proof of vaccination.  Certain industries, like cruise and airline operators, have announced they will require full vaccination and COVID testing for international travel.  They expect to only keep these requirements for the duration of the public health emergency.  Many believe proof of vaccination will make individuals more comfortable to return to public life.  However, others have raised concerns that these mandates will continue to hurt businesses, specifically small businesses, by turning away customers that do not feel comfortable with the concept.