by Reed Spaulding
We all desperately want normal lives again. And I’m not talking about the finnicky “new normal” that accommodates Aunt Karen’s irrational fear of leaving her house. I’m talking about “normal normal,” where people crowd into concert halls with standing room only, restaurants operate crowded tables at 120 percent capacity, and cruise ship buffets shove food and alcohol down my throat like it’s Fat Tuesday, all day, every day. Ah … don’t you miss 2019? I sure do.
It was only a matter of time before some in our society turned the national COVID experiment into an excuse to say, “Papers, please.” That’s right — the so-called vaccine passport is now emerging in the United States. It’s an app that is advertised as a way to help people do the things they miss doing from pre-pandemic times. Want to feel completely safe in your favorite store, and surround yourself with others who, like you, have rolled up their sleeve and gotten the vaccine? There’s an app for that. Just scan your QR code and enter feeling sanctimoniously sanitized.
Last week, New York became the first state to offer such a vaccine verification app. The state-sanctioned app, called Excelsior Pass, claims to let participants “Attend sporting events, arts performances and more! Excelsior Pass supports a safe reopening of New York by providing a free, fast and secure way to present digital proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results.” Well that sounds fun to me! Sign me up!
Well, hold on. Maybe not. Some obvious red flags fly around this type of social experiment. Obviously, privacy concerns are first and foremost. Is it ethical for a company to ask whether or not a customer has had any vaccine, COVID or otherwise? Isn’t that a clear violation of an individual’s supposed right to privacy concerning their health care? Along a similar vein, what happens if this database gets hacked? Supporters of Excelsior Pass promise that it’s secure, but a recent report claims that it makes use of a modified, private form of blockchain technology, and that “only parties sanctioned by IBM will be able to check the contents.” Can the government and/or participating companies use this app to track your spending habits? What about coronavirus variants and the potential for updated vaccines? Would app users get split into tiers, segregating those who got the original vaccine from those who got vaccine 2.0? These pesky yet important details aren’t fully worked out yet. Eh, who cares?, the COVID police say. It’s for your own good!
Perhaps you would be willing to put up with all these potential drawbacks if it meant getting to live like a normal human again. But unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that at all. Per the Excelsior Pass website, “Once you and your party enter an establishment, you will still be asked to follow State and CDC guidance regarding social distancing, face coverings and hand hygiene.”
Wait, did I miss something? It sounds like even if you are fully vaccinated, and can prove it with your papers, you still have to participate in what often amounts to nothing more than COVID-19 performance art. You can’t throw away your mask. You can’t sit close to new friends you might meet. Instead of being some digital passport to freedom, this app is simply another hoop you have to jump through to keep Aunt Karen happy. So what exactly is gained from this extra step? Is this even necessary?
No. Of course it’s not, and it’s utterly ridiculous. Ongoing data from clinical trials continues to show that the vaccines remain highly effective six months after they are administered and suggest that protection will likely last for many years. Serious question: do we still believe in immunology in this country, or is it some type of nebulous, abstract concept that only applies when left-leaning politics demand it should? Much like when a cherished sitcom jumps the shark, our public health officials must be trying on their water skis at this point. On the one hand, they (rightfully) are encouraging everyone to get vaccinated, yet they still expect fully vaccinated people to continue living life under the COVID rules. No, thanks. Not interested.
Why make vaccinated people do this? Truly, why? I can’t make sense of it; can you? Data has shown that vaccines prevent asymptomatic and symptomatic spread with high fidelity. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, stated this week that “Our data … suggests that vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick, and that it’s not just in the clinical trials but it’s also in real-world data.” OK, fine. Perfect. The last few hundred years that humans have been studying immunology weren’t some huge prank after all.
So why this continued nonsense? Dr. Fauci, for example, was fully vaccinated months ago. Why is he still shuffling around D.C. with two masks on his face? And why does Andrew Cuomo support the development of an app to encourage vaccination if he still expects vaccinated people to continue living modified lives? It’s maddening.
Thankfully, the madness isn’t catching on everywhere. Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida is reportedly planning an executive order to forbid “businesses from requiring so-called vaccine passports across the state.” Now that comes with its own issues, in my opinion: what right does a governor have to tell private businesses that they cannot make use of this technology? Perhaps the correct answer is none. While I don’t completely support his planned executive order, I do at least get the impression that Gov. DeSantis understands the value of this type of app: zero value. If his order does occur, it may very well make for a fascinating case at the Supreme Court in years to come, but surely the pandemic will be long gone by then, app or no app.
There is a religiously dedicated, large segment of our population that continues to adore our ever-fumbling public health bureaucrats and politicians, much like a young novice admires her pope. I never was too keen on blind adoration, and I’m certainly not one to embrace it now regarding COVID-19. All we need to make smart decisions is good data, and that data is rolling in. The vaccines are effective at both preventing illness and preventing the spread of COVID-19. My advice is painfully simple: get your vaccine, mind your own damned business, and start demanding a normal life again. ASAP. No app is required.
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Reed Spaulding IV, MD, is a practicing pathologist who grew up in rural Kentucky and now splits his time between Kentucky and Indiana. All opinions expressed are his and not those of his employer. Follow him on Twitter @SpauldingMd.