Here's why COVID vaccine passports are not likely in CT

Photo of Peter Yankowski
In this undated photo, provided by NY Governor's Press Office on Saturday March 27, 2021, is the new "Excelsior Pass" app, a digital pass that people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

In this undated photo, provided by NY Governor's Press Office on Saturday March 27, 2021, is the new "Excelsior Pass" app, a digital pass that people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

NY Governor's Press Office via AP

With about half of the state’s population fully vaccinated and nearly all of the pandemic restrictions lifted, Connecticut health experts say a vaccine passport system would be a valuable tool, but they acknowledge implementing the program would be a challenge.

And for Gov. Ned Lamont, he doesn’t see the demand for one.

“If I had businesses and others saying, ‘Boy it’d really be handy if the state came in and helped made sure some digital platform is in place,’ we’d take a look at it. I haven’t gotten that request though,” Lamont said last week. “I think most businesses are able to do it themselves.”

Lamont has maintained that vaccine passports could be introduced in Connecticut through the private sector. But it also leaves enforcement of masks for unvaccinated residents up to businesses with some large retailers relying on the honor system.

As of last week, fully vaccinated people can go maskless in many Connecticut public settings, though the state allows private businesses and event organizers the option to require masks for everyone. Lamont has pointed to the option to go maskless as an incentive for more people to get vaccinated, as immediate demand for vaccines has waned in some age groups.

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Those who are not yet fully vaccinated are still required to wear a mask indoors. The state’s outdoor mask mandate was lifted May 1.

Most people have proof of vaccination with the white COVID-19 Vaccination Record card they receive at their appointment.

But the paper card is susceptible to being lost or damaged. They can also be forged. Last month, state police seized a box of fake vaccine cards during an anti-vaccination rally in Hartford. Last week, police in New York arrested a Long Island CVS employee who has been accused of stealing the cards with the intent of selling them, Forbes reported.

President Joe Biden’s administration has been equally reluctant to launch a vaccine passport system. In April, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the government “is not now, nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential.”

Several states have already passed laws explicitly banning vaccine passports, including South Carolina, Iowa and Florida.

But in New York, a voluntary digital pass is being offered that allows users to show they’ve been vaccinated through a smartphone app. The pass can also be printed instead of using a smartphone.

“New Yorkers can always show alternate proof of vaccination or testing, like another mobile application or paper form, directly at a business or venue,” the state’s website notes.

Israel, an early success story as countries raced to vaccinate their citizens in the winter and early spring, rolled out its “green pass” in February.

“I think the challenges lie in the practical implementation of this type of system in the U.S.,” said Dr. David Banach, head of infection prevention at UConn Health.

In order to evade forgery, Banach suggested the system might have to rely on biometrics in a user’s smartphone. That might make the system not accessible to some, he pointed out.

Banach also raised concern that vaccine passports could worsen social inequities that already exist between those who are vaccinated and unvaccinated. It could also mean unvaccinated people will only gather with each other, he said. Some worry that scenario “may actually encourage virus transmission” and lead to more public health consequences, he said.

Sten Vermund, dean of the Yale School of Public Health, noted that vaccination cards are already being used for people traveling from places with cases of Yellow Fever.

“Domestically, we have vaccine cards for children to assess eligibility to attend school safely,” Vermund said. “This could be used for COVID-19, as well, and could be extended to adults.”

But he also cautioned cards can be forged and not everyone who wants a vaccine may have received it yet.

“Hence, I think we will need a few months to ensure full vaccination of willing persons and to develop counterfeit-free strategies before we should use vaccine passports,” he said.