Vaccine hesitancy among the partisan group has remained steady even as prominent Republicans have begun to directly encourage vaccinations.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Monday: “I want to say to everyone we need to take this vaccine. These reservations need to be put aside.”
The vaccine passport debate could further complicate what Castrucci said was the “most urgent goal”: getting everyone vaccinated. For more than a week, the concept has come under intense scrutiny on some of Fox News’ most popular programs and from politicos and pundits on the right.
Biden administration officials have been careful to stress that the government will not mandate such passports, nor will it maintain a federal database. Discussions about implementing passports are still at an early stage.
A.J. Bauer, an assistant professor of journalism and creative media at the University of Alabama who studies the conservative media ecosystem, said the passport debate is the latest instance of “applying culture war logic to the slow process of getting back to normal from Covid” by influential figures on the right.
Former Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., said vaccine passports are another issue that allows Republicans to draw contrasts with Democrats who they believe have gone too far with pandemic restrictions.
“The challenge is that the vaccination campaign requires clear and consistent messaging,” Curbelo said. “Encouraging the population to get vaccinated while opposing requirement of proof makes for some muddled messaging, but governors like [DeSantis] think they can thread the needle.”
Bauer said that the backlash over vaccine passports — which would include people’s vaccination records — is in line with long-standing skepticism over government-run identification systems and that it is partly attributable to the word “passport.”
“‘Passport,’ you think about it in terms of limitations to movement,” he said. “Part of the conservative or backlash to the shutdowns and masking orders and whatever has been about inhibiting their freedom of movement or freedom to go out and go to a bar or go to a sports game or whatever they want to do.”
“Development of a vaccine passport, or whatever you want to call it, will be driven by the private sector,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week, noting that the administration does plan to provide recommendations for digital vaccination certificates so there are applicable standards nationwide.
Such passports, which have been under consideration by the private sector for months, could be scannable QR codes people could pull up on their phones or simpler green check marks or red X’s. Digital vaccination cards are already in use In Israel, and European Union leaders have announced the development of a similar program.
Paul Mango, who was a top official in Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services and with Operation Warp Speed, saidanyone trying such an initiative would have to grapple with privacy issues and other questions, such as what a passport system would mean for children not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
“The practical considerations are such that I do not believe we would benefit much from such an initiative,” he said.
“Somehow, a country that’s founded on individual rights and freedoms, we don’t think collectively,” he said. “We think it’s our right to catch and transmit an infection, even though it’s not.”