NY introduces vaccine passport – should NC follow suit?


RALEIGH, N.C.(WNCN) – Vaccine passports are already in use in New York. The state launched an smartphone app that allows businesses to know if you’re vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19.

Nita Farahany, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health and the Global Health Institute at Duke, said these vaccine passports could help give a boost to the economy.

“It could give people a sense of safety and ability to re-engage,” said Farahany.

Farahany studies ethical and legal implications of emerging technologies.

“There’s a lot of commonality to the concerns and it doesn’t need to be politicized. We need to look at the risks of introducing these vaccine passports,” Farahany said.

Vaccine passport concerns

Farahany had a list of five concerns when it comes to vaccine passports

  • Potential false sense of security and risk of letting down our guard
  • Equity/exclusion concerns
  • Disproportionate burden on minority populations
  • The lack of full regulatory approval for drugs
  • Privacy concerns about the use of these apps

The professor said one of her concerns is requiring a vaccine that is not widely accessible creating an equity issue. It could mean people are being left out of society even if they don’t have access to the vaccine.

International travelers are often required to prove a number of immunizations but Farahany argues those are easier to get and are FDA approved. The COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for emergency use- not FDA approved.

“It’s not just that we cannot require vaccine passports in some of these contexts. We do and we can. It’s a matter of whether these passports are appropriate to be used by society across the board,” said Farahany.

Government involvement

The White House said they have no plans on setting up a federal vaccine database or mandating vaccines.

“Our interest is very simple from the federal government which is American’s privacy and rights should be protected so that these systems are not used against people unfairly,” said Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary.

In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper said the state is working on a plan to give it to those who want it and may need it in the future.

“Obviously, you need to be careful with civil liberties and privacy. We do believe it should be available to anyone who asks for it. And so the department is working on the best way to do that,” Cooper said.

For now, that leaves the information in the hands of third parties.

“There’s a privacy concern of having noncovered entities having access to our healthcare information,” said Farahany.

It’s why vaccine passports will require careful planning if states or companies want them.

“Setting them up in emergency circumstances like we are in right now without that thoughtful deliberation, often times leads to more problems down the road than we would have hoped for,” said Farahany.

Can your employer require you get COVID-19 vaccine?

Many employers in North Carolina can legally require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

CBS 17 took the question to Daniel Bowling last month, a Professor of Labor and Employment Law at Duke University’s School of Law. Because North Carolina is considered an at-will employment state, companies are allowed to fire employees for no reason at all. Bowling said they can legally require vaccinations.

“Can a private employer require its applicants and employees to be vaccinated? The answer is yes. Does an employer have to? Can they be mandated by the state to do so? The answer is no, absent it being a state-licensed business like a restaurant,” said Bowling, who is also a practicing attorney.

Bowling told CBS 17 we likely won’t see businesses begin to require the vaccine until it becomes more widely available.

But when it does happen, Bowling expects some employees or applicants may sue over the requirement.

“I absolutely anticipate in our society today that there will be lawsuits. ‘I was denied a job because I wouldn’t take a vaccine, and I wouldn’t take a vaccine because I don’t believe it’s the right for another person to tell me how I live and what I do with my body,’” said Bowling.

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