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Tyler Cowen

Vaccine Passports Don’t Have to Work to Be Effective

The U.S. should develop a system to verify vaccinations but not necessarily use it.

Could this be in America’s future?

Could this be in America’s future?

Photographer: JOEL SAGET/AFP

As more Americans get vaccinated, there is increasing talk of “vaccine passports.” There are strong emotional reactions to this idea, positive and negative, but my attempt at a more analytical view leads me to a conclusion that is not entirely satisfying (even to me): America should work to develop vaccine passports but never actually require them.

First, I am not impressed by the criticisms that vaccine passports will create an unfair two-tier society. Covid-19 already has done that. Not only are the 500,000 dead already in a highly disadvantageous “tier,” but the U.S. has been divided between those who can work at home —  often higher earners — and those who cannot. If a vaccine passport system can help clean up this mess and accelerate recovery, it is likely to increase fairness on average.