Vaccine Passports

Do Vaccine Passports Necessarily Equate to Bigger Government?

April 2, 2021

by Liz Solomon


It was Hippocrates who said, "As to diseases, make a habit of two things — to help, or at least, to do no harm." Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, governments have mandated lockdowns, masks, quarantines, school closures, and now they are proposing that their citizens carry "Vaccine Passports." 

On January 21, 2021, President Joe Biden signed Executive Order 13998, which calls for recommendations from various "respective agencies [to] impose additional public health measures for domestic travel." Shortly after that, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) began looking into a global solution. The solution is a "vaccine passport," proof that you are free from the infectious disease COVID-19. These organizations propose a solution that is "simple, free, open-source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people's privacy," Jeff Zients, a WHO representative, said at a public briefing on March 12, 2021. The vaccine passport would show proof of either having had COVID-19, a recent, negative COVID-19 test, or having received a COVID-19 vaccination. We've allowed the government to dictate and normalize free citizens' behaviors, essentially giving the government more power throughout the pandemic. Let us consider the virtues and defects of the vaccine passport and answer the question, "Do vaccine passports necessarily equate to bigger government?" 

Libertarians are likely to associate a vaccine passport with more government intrusion and control over our lives, and more power means less freedom. We believe, as Libertarian presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen touted, "government is too big, too loud, and too intrusive," and many of us feel the introduction of the "vaccine passport" to be the final straw. Let us first follow the argument along these lines.  

"As libertarians, we seek a world of liberty: a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and are not forced to sacrifice their values for the benefit of others." A vaccine passport violates every presumption in this statement. It denies people their right of free association, often given to the people and interpreted to be protected in our first amendment rights along with free speech. It also violates our fourth amendment rights to be 'secure in [our] persons,' essentially, the right to privacy. In America, we presume that medical records' control should be primarily in the patient's hands. What limiting principles would contain the scope of a vaccine passport to only COVID-19? Unfortunately, these haven't been articulated and could lead to exploitation of our private medical information. A government-issued vaccine passport gives the federal and state governments access to medical records, privacy that many Americans value. 

On the other hand, Libertarians champion the free market, and perhaps there is an opportunity for the market to determine a solution to the vaccine passport organically. Are market mechanisms insufficient to allow consenting parties to exchange their medical information when they believe it is reasonable and prudent to do so? From time to time, the market cannot meet the demand for a solution. At these times, it is perhaps helpful to consider government intervention into creating a commonly accepted vaccine passport. We have established agencies and registries like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the respective states’ Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for just this purpose. 

Is there a compelling state interest in facilitating medical information conveyance for reasons other than to further care? As the prevalence of new cases of COVID-19 continues to decline in the United States of America and around the world, has the time for vaccine passports passed? Will the vaccine passport do more good than it will harm? Vaccine passports are worthy of discussion, and there are merits on all sides. Conclusively, Libertarians disapprove of the government infringing on the rights of individuals. We have allowed the government to have more and more control over our liberties in recent months, and we are less 'free' today than we were a year ago. We must consider the most extreme use of the vaccine passport and conclude that we cannot allow the government with their already long reach a tighter grip on America.  

Vaccine passports would give the government one more inch of control over our lives and indeed do more harm than good.