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White House says private sector, not federal government, should lead on vaccine passports

A person received a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
A person received a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.Angus Mordant/Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- White House officials said that the push for vaccine passports should come from the private sector and that the federal government won’t take the lead in creating a centralized document proving vaccination.

The U.S. government “is not viewing its role as the place to create a passport, nor a place to hold the data of citizens,” Andy Slavitt, a White House Covid-19 adviser, said Monday in a briefing.

Vaccine passports that provide proof of immunity to the coronavirus are supported by the travel industry and other businesses that have suffered from concerns about the risk of contagion in public places. Airlines are already backing a number of tech solutions they hope would give tourists and travelers more confidence.

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Slavitt said there is a segment of the U.S. population that would be concerned if the government plays “too heavy-handed of a role” in monitoring vaccinations. However, he said federal officials will lead an interagency process to ensure “important criteria” around data privacy and data security are met.

“It’s also important that we recognize that there are still many, many millions and millions of Americans that have not yet been vaccinated,” he added.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a separate briefing Monday there will be no centralized federal vaccination database, and no federal mandate requiring a single vaccination credential.

“A determination or development of a vaccine passport or whatever you want to call it will be driven by the private sector,” Psaki said. “Ours will more be focused on guidelines that can be used as a basis, and there are a couple key principles we’re working from.”

Private Sector

Psaki said the government wants to encourage an open marketplace with a variety of private sector companies and nonprofit coalitions developing solutions. She didn’t have a timeline for the process.

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The news came after a Washington Post report last week said President Joe Biden was pushing for development of a vaccine passport that would provide proof that people were vaccinated against Covid-19.

The travel industry is seeking vaccine passports or solutions to verify Covid-19 vaccination and testing results. Some being developed include the IATA Travel Pass app, the AOKpass from French travel-security company International SOS, and the CommonPass, which is being developed by a Swiss nonprofit and the World Economic Forum.

Biden plans to announce that within three weeks, 90% of U.S. adults will be eligible to get a Covid-19 vaccine, officials familiar with the matter said. The president previously directed states to open eligibility to all adults no later than May 1.

A total of 31 states have said they will fully open eligibility by April 19.

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