Freedom Rider: Vaccine Passports in a Failed State

Margaret Kimberley
Freedom Rider: Vaccine Passports in a Failed StateThe non-vaccinated can be smeared and equated with MAGA hat wearing Trumpers, regardless of their religious or political affiliations.

“The U.S. medical community should ask Cuba, China, Vietnam and other countries with low rates of infection for help in addressing the ongoing health emergency.”

The COVID-19 pandemic fully exposed how badly the United States treats its citizens. People who are said to live in an “advanced” country actually have no right to employment or housing or health care. Those who are Black get worse care when they get it at all, and the political system works to the benefit of corporate interests and wealthy individuals. The people may get scraps such as small stimulus payments in moments of political crisis, but they have no expectation of anything resembling a safety net to protect their lives.

The United States is one of the countries with a high COVID death toll in part because it failed at even rudimentary infection control. The country was late in developing a diagnostic test, a simple tool which would have minimized illness and societal disruption. Now after 550,000 deaths, the U.S. leads the world only in its vaccination efforts. Three different vaccines have received emergency use authorization and 56 million people are now fully vaccinated.

“The people have no expectation of anything resembling a safety net to protect their lives.”

This success still creates other problems. Vaccination is seen as the panacea which will undo all of the systemic problems which created the crisis in this country. Anyone who questions anything about the vaccines, the thinking behind them, or the process by which they are distributed may be banned from social media or other platforms. Those who choose not to be vaccinated have been marginalized. The New York Times proclaimed that evangelical  conservatives were the group singularly responsible for vaccine hesitancy. The subtext is clear; the non-vaccinated can be smeared and equated with MAGA hat wearing Trumpers, regardless of their religious or political affiliations or the decisions they choose to make regarding their health care.

If vaccination is seen as the main tool of protection, then the unvaccinated will be viewed suspiciously, as a group to be excluded. There is talk of vaccine passports which will give freedom to travel. But the term now encompasses many aspects of public life including access to entertainment and sports venues. Major league baseball opened its season with stadiums demanding proof of vaccination or negative test results. Universities across the country have announced that students will be required to vaccinate in order to attend classes on campus. Employers are requiring workers to get the “jab” in order to keep their jobs.

“The unvaccinated will be viewed suspiciously, as a group to be excluded.”

The Biden administration did not ease any concerns when they casually announced that corporate America will decide these weighty issues. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki  said, “…a determination or development of a vaccine passport or whatever you want to call it will be driven by the private sector.” Psaki added, “there will be no centralized, universal federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.” The qualifier does not resolve the multitude of problems in this country.

The National Security Agency has records of everyone’s electronic communications. Every email, phone call and social media post is in federal hands because of private sector cooperation with the government. Psaki’s words are cold comfort to anyone paying attention.

The U.S. has a patchwork of for-profit entities instead of a true health care system. The same people victimized by these private structures are now told to trust the private sector with their right to public accommodation.

“Every email, phone call and social media post is in federal hands.”

The same politicians who say we have no right to health care, housing, or work should not also be able to restrict our movements or our ability to access education, employment or recreation.. To do so diminishes the few human rights we have in this country. These efforts must be opposed.

Ironically it is the right wing who have spoken out most forcefully on this issue. Republican governors are banning efforts to treat the vaccinated and unvaccinated differently. The politicization of a health issue and so-called culture war confusion have created a situation where people who ordinarily support human rights are willing to give the private sector and the state more power over their lives.

We are tracked with smart phones and asked to give up more and more information electronically. Any passport or tracking process will exclude millions of people and only enhance the many inequalities in this country. Proof of vaccination status will surely be the latest weapon in the American racist arsenal and Black people would suffer under this system.

“People who ordinarily support human rights are willing to give the private sector and the state more power over their lives.”

If Americans are concerned about spreading COVID they must look to the rest of the world for guidance. While Cuba, the target of 60 years of U.S. sanctions, sent doctors around the world, developed its own vaccine, and boasts of a low death rate, the phony advanced nation lurches from crisis to solution to crisis again. China is the target of bipartisan blame for COVID but has had fewer than 5,000 deaths in a population of 1.3 million people.

We do not have to compromise safety or legal rights. We need a country which can direct its resources to the public good. The medical community should ask Cuba, China, Vietnam and other countries with low rates of infection for help in addressing the ongoing health emergency. A country where the demand for free and universal health care is dismissed should not also be allowed to determine who can move about freely.

The need to restrict public movement based on vaccine status will create a segregated society for millions of people without proof of any clear benefit. Neither the government nor the private sector should be allowed to make these determinations. Americans should know that separate accommodation is inherently unequal.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at patreon.com/margaretkimberley and she regularly posts on Twitter @freedomrideblog. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.