Constitution & Flag

Capitolwire: Oppose ‘vaccine passports’ to protect liberty

This piece is shared with permission from
By Chris Comisac, Bureau Chief, Capitolwire

HARRISBURG (March 31) – If no one else will say it, I will: any government official, elected or appointed, who seeks to impose so-called “vaccine passports” upon any American needs to give up their position of authority.

Every. Last. One.

Such an assault on our basic freedoms as human beings – endowed by our creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – shouldn’t even be a concept explored.

The thought process should have ended the moment someone started thinking about requiring people to get a vaccine (with all signs pointing at each vaccine being highly effective, but still experimental) to do the things they once did before COVID-19 … things like traveling, attending public events – such as the college basketball games currently being played – and who knows what else, all in the name of “keeping people safe.”

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin expressed those words in 1775 during efforts to seek a peaceful reconciliation with England, indicating that while there existed areas of potential compromise, there were some things – involving basic liberties – that could not be conceded: foreign interference in colony governance, and basing British military troops within the colonies without the approval of the colonies, even if those actions and troops could offer “temporary safety.”

The past twelve-plus months have crystalized those words for the entire world, not just here in Pennsylvania and the United States.

However, unlike much of the rest of the world, liberty is not as foreign a concept in this country. Many residents of many other nations have long since given up much of their rights to privacy and personal freedom to their governments in return for the false security of “temporary safety” – meaning governments can easily take away that which they bestow.

But even here in the cradle of liberty, COVID-19 has shown how quickly our federal, state and local government officials can take away things by way of emergency powers in the name of “safety.”

While it’s true we can’t have absolute freedom in our society because there are some for whom such freedom would likely result in safety and freedom being taken away from others, we also can’t have complete safety because that would not only involve significant restriction of freedom, but also affect overall safety because everyone would be made vulnerable to those entrusted with our protection.

“Keeping everyone as safe as possible” was a forlorn hope sold far too often by far too many officials during the past year, as we got a front-row seat for that false security in this state and this country with hard lockdowns, the outcomes of which delivered no more “safety” to us than those living in places that didn’t take the same path.

Studies are coming out regularly to indicate that closing down “nonessential businesses” and education entities, and requiring people to hunker down in their homes – the lockdowns – produced little-to-no difference in virus infection rate trajectory when compared to places that didn’t lock down. Additionally, studies have identified the lockdowns as having produced a slew of negative impacts – on such things as physical health (unrelated to COVID-19), mental health, education attainment, and economic well-being and security – that combined are far greater than the unfortunate and heavy ongoing direct toll of the virus.

So, all the promises that lockdowns – and other restrictions – were being imposed because of “science” and “to keep people safe” now appear to be proving accurate Franklin’s statement when applied it to COVID-19. Thanks to people engaging in real science, not the flawed and ineffective policy based on projections (like the wildly inaccurate projections made by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington), it’s becoming clear we allowed this to occur and we denied ourselves both liberty and safety.

Now we hear New York State is already implementing a “vaccine passport,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has indicated he’s generally supportive of the idea (although he said it would have to come from the state legislature), other states are in various stages of “passport” development, and the private sector is also involved with the approval of, and potential regulation by, the federal government.

Given all that, there’s another apropos saying for the looming “passport” situation, one that dates back at least to the seventeenth century: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

We’ve already accepted inappropriate, ineffective and, in some cases, unconstitutional government control of our lives during the past year. Much of that was fear-driven, given limited information about the virus early during the outbreak, but which was further stoked by too many people as the year wore on, something for which we should hold our elected and appointed leaders, as well as many in the news media, accountable.

But if we allow more government and God knows what other type of control of our lives (and don’t think our “friends” in the high-tech sector aren’t champing at the bit to better track and control what we do and think) in the form of these “passports,” this time it will truly be our fault.

“Vaccine passports” are like other modern-day versions of “temporary safety” at the cost of essential liberties, such as government electronic surveillance and tech companies tracking our online activity, selling our personal data and limiting what information we can access – all of which could be made worse by these “passports” which could be used to collect and track even more personal data and limit what we can do.

That could create a perverse disincentive to vaccination for those worried about their privacy, and requiring these “passports” to do everyday activities could exacerbate existing inequities created by COVID-19, as well as the rollout of the vaccines, for various demographic populations.

We never conceived of a “passport” regarding seasonal influenza, which annually kills plenty of those in the same demographic groups at risk from COVID-19 (it can also be far deadlier for younger age groups than COVID-19) and for which people can be voluntarily inoculated. And we don’t do this for other contagious diseases against which we vaccinate the general population.

It seems ridiculous to create a “passport” for a virus that in the overwhelming majority of infected individuals produces no more than cold- or flu-like symptoms for a few days, and if a person is vaccinated – voluntarily – the likelihood increases that most people won’t even experience that, particularly when we achieve – possibly during the next few months – herd immunity, which not only would seemingly make “passports” unnecessary but also offer us true safety while maintaining our liberty.

Here’s a thought: let’s just work harder to get as many people voluntarily vaccinated as possible, so we reach that herd immunity as fast as we can, instead of pushing distractions like “passports” that will likely be counterproductive to that effort, treat some people as second-class citizens, and further chip away at individual privacy and freedom.

If we don’t, we will have no one else to blame but ourselves for another loss of both liberty and safety.