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Renée Schafer Horton: Vaccine passports? Bring 'em on
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Tucson Opinion

Renée Schafer Horton: Vaccine passports? Bring 'em on

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

“Vaccination should be the seal on the passport of entrance to the public schools, to the voters’ booth, to the box of the juryman, and to every position of duty, privilege, profit or honor in the gift of either the State or the Nation.” – Chicago physician James Hyde, in an essay about the smallpox vaccine, published October 1901 in Popular Science magazine.

They’re wondering aloud on LinkedIn, musing on Instagram and agonizing in online office chat groups. Since the Centers for Disease Control’s announcement May 13 that persons fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can go without masks nearly everywhere, one question is top of mind: How can we tell who is vaccinated?

The question comes because few vaccinated persons believe unvaccinated persons will adhere to the CDC recommendation that the unvaccinated continue to wear masks in all indoor spaces. I wish the distrust wasn’t this high, but when 18 percent of unvaccinated Arizonans said in a recent Washington Post-ABC poll that they think COVID is a hoax, I suppose it isn’t surprising.

Yes, coronavirus cases and deaths are going down among adults, and some unvaccinated persons have achieved natural immunity due to contracting COVID.

But equally true is that barely half the United States is vaccinated and locally, as of May 26, 58% of Pima County remains unvaccinated, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The unvaccinated can continue to spread COVID to other unvaccinated people, including children for whom the vaccine is not yet approved. COVID variants are causing an uptick in childhood coronavirus cases that have long-lasting symptoms. Indeed, it’s gotten so bad that Cleveland’s Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital just announced opening the nation’s first clinic for treating long-haul COVID in children.

In other words, we’re not out of the woods yet. The unvaccinated-by-choice remain a public-health risk to children and immunocompromised adults unable to produce COVID antibodies even after vaccination.

So how can we know who is vaccinated and can responsibly toss their mask?

Remember that little card you’ve seen on social media since the advent of the vaccine? Let’s put it to good use. Consider it a variation of the ever popular “Show me your papers” argument acceptable to folks when they’re wanting to identify people who are legal U.S. residents.

The Show Me Your Card plan would identify who can be in Costco, at a movie theater, cheek-to-jowl at a concert or in a church pew sans mask. Likewise, lack of said card would identify who must remain masked in those spaces.

Yes, it is your right to decline the vaccine for whatever reason you have. It is not, however, your right to be a walking public-health hazard. This is similar to smokers no longer being allowed to smoke in public spaces. While it’s anyone’s right to smoke, it’s not their right to contribute to a nonsmoker contracting illness from secondhand smoke.

Proof of vaccination isn’t something new. has a fascinating article about when smallpox vaccination was obligatory — and enforced — after the worst of the outbreaks between 1899 and 1904.

While anti-vaxxers protested, they weren’t allowed to hold sway over the country’s public health. Essentially, if you wanted to be part of public life, you had to produce a vaccination certificate showing you weren’t a danger to that public life. When certificates began being forged, public-health officials required seeing the scar on a person’s arm produced by the smallpox vaccination.

For COVID, we could require a vaccination card or a lab result showing COVID antibodies from natural infection. Other countries — France, Saudi Arabia and the European Union — are all developing plans along these lines.

The fastest way back to normal is to get the country close to herd immunity. The fastest way to that is widespread vaccination, and vaccination absolutely should have its rewards. (I’ll take a mask-free concert at the Rialto Theater and a leisurely indoor brunch at Five Points Restaurant, please.)

Recently, my son pointed me to some interesting statistics. According to John Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Research Center, there were 180 deaths per 100,000 COVID infections in the United States, as of May 26. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety there were 11 fatal automobile crashes per 100,000 U.S. car crashes in 2019.

We require proof of a driver’s license to drive, and if you don’t have one, you walk, bike or take public transportation. With the fatality rate so much higher for coronavirus than car crashes, why wouldn’t we do the same for vaccines and masks? Provide proof of vaccination or mask up until the pandemic ends. Your country thanks you.

Renée Schafer Horton is a regular Star contributor. Reach her at

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