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Vaccinations Are Private Business

Jeffrey Miron and Erin Partin

As a long Covid winter gives way to spring, and businesses begin reopening for normal operations, debate around “vaccine passports” is in the air. Various stakeholders – from privately‐​owned companies to government agencies – are considering establishment of a standardized certification. Meanwhile, opponents of vaccine passports argue they would exclude those who choose not to receive the Covid‐​19 vaccine or coerce people into getting the vaccine.

One of the most vocal critics is Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida:

“We are not supporting doing any vaccine passports in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said Monday. “It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society.”

DeSantis is right to oppose government imposition of vaccine proof in private settings; but he is wrong to oppose private development and use of such certification.

If a restaurant or an airline does not want to expose its employees or customers to an infected patron, or if they want to require vaccination before employees can return to work in person, they should be free to do so. This not only benefits the customers (and employees who should not get vaccinated for medical reasons), but also the community at large. Society benefits further if such requirements induce people at the margin to receive a vaccine, thus aiding herd immunity.

Given these potential benefits, some might argue that mandating vaccine passports is good policy. But just because something is “good” does not mean the government should subsidize or require it. A government‐​mandated vaccine passport will generate hostility and backlash – as the debate over mask mandates illustrates. Voluntary, private adoption, in contrast, will generate acceptance and innovation, or simply fade away, depending on whether the passports turn out not to be useful.

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