Will New Jersey offer a vaccine passport?

The first weekend under new mask wearing guidance from the CDC brought confusion across the region.

A growing number of retail businesses announced they were relaxing mask rules. Starbucks joined Walmart, Sam's Club, Trader Joe's, Costco and Walt Disney in telling customers they do not have to mask up, unless it's required by state or local ordinances.

Outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has largely ditched mask requirements. New York is also easing restrictions. In New Jersey, indoor mask wearing is still required.

In most cases, where mask mandates have been lifted, no proof of vaccination is required. That was the case when I visited Parx Casino in Pennsylvania this weekend. My friends and I waited in the socially distanced entry line. When we got to the front, a security guard simply asked, "Are you vaccinated?" Anyone who said yes was told they didn't need a health screening and didn't need to wear a mask. No proof was required.

Most retailers who have announced a relaxation of mask mandates have also said they will also not require proof of vaccination. Relying on the honor system was the main reason cited by Gov. Phil Murphy for leaving New Jersey's indoor mask mandate in place. It's also why Murphy has said he is open to a vaccine passport in New Jersey.

A vaccine passport is the latest politically polarizing issue surrounding the pandemic. Republicans have already proposed legislation banning a vaccine passport in New Jersey. Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming have either banned vaccine passports or are in the process of doing so.

New York state was the first state to create one. Their COVID-19 app was converted into the "Excelsior Pass." It allows users to upload and verify vaccination status and then creates digital proof of inoculation. It's considered more secure than carrying your CDC vaccination card, which does not fit in your wallet and can easily be forged.

The Biden administration has already said they have no plans for a national vaccine passport, and would leave it up to individual states and private industry. Even as more states reject passports, private industry has been moving forward with their own verification systems and requirements.

  • Norwegian Cruise Lines announced all passengers and crew will be required to be fully vaccinated two weeks prior to sailing.
  • Delta Airlines announced they were working with Clear's Health Pass.
  • American and British Airways are using an app called VeriFLY.
  • IATA Travel Pass is being used by some South American countries.
  • European destinations are also partnering with government and privately developed apps.

With more businesses and entertainment venues likely to require vaccinations to gain entry and admission, the need for some uniform platform proving vaccination status is likely going to be needed.

If New Jersey ultimately chooses to adopt an official platform, the simplest way may be to follow New York State's path. New York had a COVID app similar to New Jersey's COVID Alert NJ app, and converted it to their vaccine passport. Privacy concerns are likely to trigger challenges against such government mandates. Private industry, however, is well within legal rights to both require vaccinations and that you prove it. How you prove it remains the biggest question.

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