Vaccines, health passports and fear: Travel Weekly

Vaccines, health passports and fear: Travel Weekly

With travel already curtailed, the traditional way that fear and geographical ignorance combine to impact travel aren’t in play. But a new form of fear and ignorance is being deployed against travel. The approval of vaccines gives us an opportunity to put the Covid nightmare behind us more quickly, but only if as many people as possible get vaccinated and, as regards travel, can give assurances to one another that indeed we are vaccinated. And … it’s being done, partly, in the name of travel.

The impact of fear and ignorance in the examples I offered was clearly irrational. But some fear is rational and based on evidence of threat. The severe curtailment of travel following the declaration of the Covid-19 pandemic was a logical response to the danger it posed, and those countries that recognized it soonest, swiftly closed their borders and whose citizens — by choice (New Zealand) or directive (China) — locked down also recovered most quickly. These examples seem all the more illogical because we, as Americans, have reference points we could consider. No one would cancel a trip to Los Angeles because of a mass shooting in Chicago. For that matter, a Chicagoan wouldn’t cancel a dentist appointment in the Loop if there was a multiple homicide elsewhere in the city that day.

Those who did not (that is, most countries) saw more deaths and health challenges and are still struggling to unlock their domestic economies. Fear and ignorance are a notoriously bad combination for travel. The low priority put on geography education in American schools has resulted in irrational downturns in travel time and again. The first Gulf War, which began in August 1990, quashed much of that summer’s season to Europe even though Paris and Kuwait City are 2,700 miles apart. Ten years ago, a drug cartel atrocity in Ciudad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexico border caused a change of plans for people who had booked vacations in Cancun, 2,100 miles away. The Ebola outbreak in 2014 in Liberia? Safaris were canceled in Kenya, 5,300 miles away. 

I can see no rational reason for either of these stances, and plenty of irrational ones. An expressed concern about health passports involves privacy, and indeed, most Americans have legitimate reasons to worry about sharing personal information. But concern that the government might get health data should be pretty low on the list of modern-day anxieties. States already maintain immunization registries, which most share with the CDC (but only after information is de-identified). Incidentally, the illogical opposition to proof of vaccination is on both sides of the political divide. DeSantis is a Republican, but President Biden’s administration has also stated there “will be no …federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”

A shirtless, shoeless patron can be turned away from a convenience store. But enter and possibly infect an employee with a potentially lethal disease? Come right in! Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida issued an executive order essentially banning the use of digital health passports to validate that a person has been vaccinated and forbidding businesses to prohibit entry based on vaccination status.

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