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Politicization of ‘vaccine passports’ could worsen GOP reluctance, experts warn

A growing conservative backlash to the idea of ​​”vaccine passports” – proposed by some private sector industries to promote a safer environment as states begin to ease coronavirus restrictions – could make Republicans even less likely to do so. vaccinate, warned experts.

Last month, several polls found that about half of Republicans or those who identified themselves as having voted for former President Donald Trump either want to wait and see before getting the shot or say they won’t get the shot. never vaccinate. The so-called reluctance to vaccinate Republicans could prevent the United States from achieving collective immunity, which scientists say will be achieved when 70-85% of the population has anti-Covid-19 antibodies.

“The idea of ​​a vaccine passport quickly became politicized, making it a separation between people rather than a bridge to our goal of increasing immunization,” said epidemiologist Brian Castrucci, president and chief of the leadership of the Beaumont Foundation, which has established a long-standing partnership with Republican Pollster to study and create pro-vaccination messages aimed at conservatives.

Reluctance over vaccines among the partisan group has remained constant even as prominent Republicans have begun to directly encourage vaccinations.

Last month, Trump declared the vaccines “safe” and effective, telling Fox News: “I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people who don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly. “

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Said Monday: “I want to tell everyone that we need to take this vaccine. These reserves need to be put aside.”

The vaccine passport debate could further complicate what Castrucci said was “the most pressing goal”: to get everyone vaccinated. For more than a week, the concept has come under intense scrutiny in some of Fox News’ most popular programs and by politicians and right-wing pundits.

Conservatives have criticized these passports, as they have previously done for government restrictions, such as lockdowns and mask warrants, as potential government exaggerations and violation of patient privacy – a point the ‘American Civil Liberties Union has taken over.

Biden administration officials were careful to point out that the government will not impose such passports nor will it maintain a federal database. Discussions on the implementation of passports are still at an early stage.

AJ Bauer, 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 example of “applying the logic of war culture to the slow process of returning to normal Covid “by influential figures on the right.

Ric grenell, who was the acting director of national intelligence in the Trump administration, and Josh mandel, Republican candidate for the Ohio Senate, likened the idea to Nazism. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Said any business that needed it to get in would promote it “corporate communism. “

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis – seen as a potential frontrunner in the 2024 Republican presidential election – signed an executive order on Friday to restrict the use of these passports, while Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Ohio lobbied against their use, claiming that they would harm people’s civilian life. rights.

Former Representative Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., Said vaccine passports are another issue that allows Republicans to create contrasts with Democrats who they say have gone too far with the pandemic restrictions.

“The challenge is that the vaccination campaign requires a clear and consistent message,” Curbelo said. “Encouraging the population to get vaccinated while opposing the proof requirement gives confusing messages, but governors like [DeSantis] think they can thread the needle. “

Bauer said the backlash over vaccine passports – which would include people’s immunization records – is in line with long-held skepticism about government-run identification systems and is in part attributable to the word “passport”. “.

“’Passport’, you think of it in terms of movement limitations,” he said. “Part of the conservatives or the negative reactions to closures and masking orders and anything that has prevented their freedom of movement or the freedom to go out and go to a bar or go to a sports match or whatever what they want to do. “

The form of such a passport system is still evolving. The Biden administration has previously said it will not create a national vaccine app, and President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr.Anthony Fauci, told Politico on Monday that the federal government will not impose vaccination passport to companies or travelers.

“The development of a vaccine passport, or whatever you want to call it, will be led by the private sector,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week, noting that the administration plans to provide recommendations for digital vaccination certificates. are standards applicable throughout the country.

These passports, which have been under consideration by the private sector for months, could be scannable QR codes that people could display on their phones or simpler green check marks or red Xs. Digital immunization cards are already in use in Israel, and European Union leaders have announced the development of a similar program.

Paul Mango, who was a senior official in Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services and Operation Warp Speed, said anyone attempting such a move would have to grapple with privacy concerns and other issues, such as what a passport system would mean for children yet. eligible to be vaccinated.

“The practicalities are such that I don’t think we would benefit much from such an initiative,” he said.

Dr Paul Offit, a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee, said he was a supporter of the passport idea because passports would provide peace of mind in bars or restaurants. But, he said, “I think that could never happen in this country” – although he noted that the United States has other “vaccination mandates”, including those for children. of school age and for people traveling to countries where dangerous diseases are present. .

“Somehow, a country based on individual rights and freedoms, we don’t think collectively,” he said. “We believe it is our right to catch and transmit an infection, even if it is not.”

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