D.C. should roll out vaccine passports for public spaces

GW’s campus is reopening and vaccination rates in the District are climbing, but we’re not out of the woods yet. D.C.’s coronavirus cases are rising – the pandemic has been given a new lease on life by the more-contagious Delta variant. The surge is threatening to unspool the progress the University and the District have made toward restoring normalcy.

Recognizing that vaccinations are the key to stopping the pandemic, D.C. is already making painstaking efforts, like public education programs and literally going door-to-door, to get people to take the shot. But at this point, with the Delta variant imperiling the long-awaited sense of normalcy many people now enjoy, it is time for D.C. to take its efforts up a notch. To boost vaccination rates and keep the entire District safe, D.C. should follow New York City’s lead and make proof of COVID-19 vaccination a requirement to enter restaurants, gyms and other public places.

Although the District is not facing as severe a crisis as it did back in the winter and spring, the transmission rate of the coronavirus is still high enough to be classified as “substantial” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to merit an indoor mask mandate. With the vaccination rate of the University’s student body somewhere between 90 and 99 percent, GW is an oasis of near-universal inoculation. In D.C., 67 percent of the population is fully vaccinated – a tally higher than 37 states but not enough to bring the pandemic to an end. In fact, quite the opposite – the rampancy of the coronavirus among the unvaccinated is contributing to breakthrough infections among people who have received the shot. Even more concerning, it puts those who cannot get vaccinated – like children under 12 and some immunocompromised people – at even higher risk. A large unvaccinated population endangers not just students at GW but everybody who lives, works or visits in the District.

It is not fair to rely on those who have taken the responsible and empathetic step of getting vaccinated to protect those who have not. The Delta variant lurks in any place where large groups may gather, especially indoors. Requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining, gyms and other places with a high risk of transmission would keep the community safe and incentivize vaccine uptake. D.C. should look no further than New York City as a template. As of earlier this month, displaying proof of vaccination is a requirement to enter public spaces like restaurants, bars and gyms.

Karina Ochoa Berkley | Staff Cartoonist

New York has already begun to use the “Excelsior Pass,” which gives people their vaccine record on their phones to show to businesses that require vaccination. An easy-access digital vaccine record would be more effective than a mandate that forces all D.C. residents to get vaccinated because so many nonresidents cycle in and out of D.C. each day. Instead, an easy-to-access digital pass to gain entry to businesses will prompt both people who live and those who work in D.C. to get vaccinated. A passport will also encourage positive reinforcement. Just as more people nationwide got vaccinated when the CDC announced that a fully vaccinated person can take their mask off indoors, more people who live and work in the District will be encouraged to receive the vaccine when they realize how much more they can do in the city after their vaccination.

Most unvaccinated people are not the Ivermectin-consuming armchair scientists that we see caricatured on social media (although a few are). A sizable chunk of people are just nervous. They’ve heard that the shot was approved in record time and think corners were cut, or say “I’m cautious about what I put into my body” or demonstrate some other rationale for waffling. Since many people’s hesitancies are manifestations of general nervousness and not some deep-seated ideological opposition to getting vaccinated, requiring the shot as a means to go back to the normal and enjoyable activities of pre-pandemic life could well be just the push people need.

Everybody at GW had to upload many immunization records – including proof of vaccination against meningitis, rubella and other diseases – to be able to work or study here. A vaccine passport would be a mobile version of an immunization record, one that we can show to restaurants, movie theaters and bars to demonstrate that we are fully vaccinated and are less likely to carry and pass on the coronavirus to others.

Vaccine passports are essential to getting D.C. up and running for good, without the worry of potentially sliding back into isolation. Although strong public health should be reason enough to support vaccine passports, each of us can look forward to tangible benefits from this policy. Students can feel reassured in knowing that D.C. is safe from the threats of COVID-19, meaning that it is less likely that we will be forced to go back to online classes. Children and immunocompromised people will be at less risk of infection and disease. And for those who are still hesitant to get the vaccine, the prospect of participating in a social life once more is another positive outcome of the vaccine passport.

This is not just about students who don’t want to return to virtual learning and social isolation. It is about the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people throughout the District. D.C. should follow in New York’s footsteps and roll out vaccine passports – that way, we can get back to normal as soon as humanly possible.

The editorial board consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by opinions editor Andrew Sugrue and contributing opinions editor Shreeya Aranake, based on discussions with culture editor Anna Boone, contributing sports editor Nuria Diaz, design editor Grace Miller, copy editor Jaden DiMauro and assistant copy editor Karina Ochoa Berkley.

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