Just because the federal government isn’t directly developing a national vaccine database or vaccine passport system doesn’t mean such systems aren’t in the works — they are, and some of the Big Tech players involved have deep ties to multiple government agencies.
Since its December 2020 launch of COVID-19 vaccines, the U.S. has set itself apart from many other Western countries by not adopting a nationwide vaccination passport, instead using paper vaccination cards issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But just because the federal government isn’t directly developing a national vaccine database or vaccine passport system doesn’t mean such systems aren’t in the works.
Additionally, several state-level digital vaccination verification and contact tracing apps have been developed. And state-level vaccination records, including patients’ names, do reach the CDC, though identifiable information is said to be redacted.
Existing medical data privacy laws do not appear to be an obstacle in the development of a nationwide digital vaccination passport.
Pending federal legislation and yet-to-be-enforced aspects of federal law, however, may soon turn a form of national identification cards — and a national vaccination database — into reality, despite concerns.
Where does this information come from?
Biden says it’s up to private sector to develop digital health tracking technology
In the European Union (EU), the 27 member states have digital vaccination passes. In addition to country-level apps, an EU-wide app, the “Green Pass,” is recognized throughout the bloc.
In the U.S., the Biden administration adopted a different approach. As White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated in March 2021:
“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.”
Instead, Psaki explained:
“We want to drive the market toward meeting public interest goals, so we’ll leverage our resources to ensure that all vaccination credential systems meet key standards, whether that’s universal accessibility, affordability, availability, both digitally and on paper.
“We want to encourage an open marketplace with a variety of private sector companies and nonprofit coalitions developing solutions.”
However, this does not mean the federal government will not be, at least indirectly, involved in the development of a national vaccine passport.
Andy Slavitt, then-acting director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, explained in March 2021: “[t]his is going to hit all parts of society, and so naturally, the government is involved.”
Clearly, the Biden administration is not entirely detached from the effort to develop vaccination passports, as demonstrated by this January 2021 Executive Order 13998, which states:
“Consistent with applicable law, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of HHS, and the Secretary of Homeland Security (including through the Administrator of the [Transportation Security Administration, or TSA]), in coordination with any relevant international organizations, shall assess the feasibility of linking COVID-19 vaccination to International Certificates of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) and producing electronic versions of ICVPs.”