My Turn: Lack of vaccine passports explained

There is one big problem with the argument that a COVID vaccination card should be accepted as an alternative to pre-flight testing for people flying into Hawaii. The problem is that they are too easy to fake.

I agree with people who say a COVID vaccination makes people safe for travel — safer even than those who take a COVID test 72 hours before their flight. So why don’t we see vaccination passports being instituted?

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The government has no interest in starting a huge new program to gather data on everyone who has been vaccinated and issue them official vaccination IDs. Both liberals and conservatives are against this — the liberals don’t like that it would disadvantage people who are having trouble getting vaccinated; conservatives don’t want a government program that would disadvantage people who don’t believe in vaccinations. Both don’t like the idea of a government database that would necessarily have a lot of personal information on hundreds of millions of people.

So why don’t the airlines do it? The answer to that is that they are trying, but the problem of fake records is slowing them down. If they rely on people bringing their unofficial little cardboard vaccination record cards to the terminal when they check in, how will the airline know if they are fake? Even I could make a real-looking card like this in about 5 minutes with my cheap ink-jet printer.

So what about having the airline access your medical records at the institution where you got your vaccination? This is very cumbersome. The institution first would have to receive your original, signed authorization to share your records with the airline, then the airline would have to make a specific request to the institution for access to your individual account before it could then begin to rummage through your medical records looking for your vaccination records. The airlines and health care institutions are working on it, but it will take more time to work out the processes.

Making this bureaucratic mess all the more dangerous are the knuckleheads — the ones who don’t wear masks, or don’t believe COVID is all that dangerous. Of course, they will try to get fake vaccine passports, whatever the system turns out to be. And when they come to Hawaii and circulate among us, that could start a lot of COVID clusters. So the system has to be tight.

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Most experts had no hope that vaccines would be as effective as they turned out to be. It was hoped that they would prevent serious symptoms of COVID, but it was never expected that they would prevent vaccinated people from being infectious at all, thus making vaccine passports possible. This is almost a miraculous success — we should be grateful to the geniuses who invented the vaccines. Now we need to hope there are geniuses at the airlines and health care institutions who can do their part in making the passports a reality.

Matt Binder is a resident of Waimea.