by Anne McCarthy
We’re living in a pandemic world, and with that comes new questions: How can we safely continue life as it was in the “before times?” What is a vaccine passport? Will I need one?
In an ever-changing COVID-19 reality, it’s important to keep abreast of not only the latest science and best safety practices, but also how the pandemic is impacting the way we do business and live our professional lives.
For people involved in membership organizations, getting your members together in person to offer networking opportunities, education and job growth opportunities is key. But how will we do that safely?
Vaccine Passports Are Legal
A “vaccine passport” is proof of vaccination, and it is not a new concept. However, what is new is the potential future ubiquity of these digital vaccine certifications, which may be required for festivals, concerts, conferences and other organized events. It would likely be a QR code stored in a digital wallet that shows vaccine status, reports NPR.
For starters, you should know that private entities – i.e. businesses and membership organizations – can legally require attendees to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. As many parents know, schools have long required students to show proof of vaccination, and vaccinations are required for immigrants to the U.S. looking to secure citizenship, as well as for military personnel.
Allison N. Winnike, J.D., is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The Immunization Partnership, a non-profit based in Houston, which works to eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases through education, advocating for evidence-based public policies, and supporting immunization best practices. “Membership organizations can create limitations on who they allow to come to the event,” Winnike said. “It’s absolutely legal.”
For those in the event-planning space, they should be aware of potential pushback against this kind of requirement. For instance, Florida’s governor recently issued an executive order banning business from requiring people to show COVID-19 vaccination proof to enter the premises. And in Texas, said Winnike, “the governor issued a similar order except it only applies to public entities. So still, private businesses and event planners in Texas still have that right. And again, these are just executive orders during an emergency. So, they would eventually expire unless a law was passed about that.” Winnike said she doesn’t think this trend will continue widely in other states.
These emergency orders will technically stay in effect as long as we’re under a disaster declaration, Winnike explained.
In terms of a physical vaccine passport or an app verifying vaccination status, it’s become a “political dust-up,” but it will likely become more common. “It is going to depend now going forward how politicized the issue gets.”
Plus, Winnike said, “this idea of a vaccine passport is not new at all.”
The World Health Organization has had a vaccine passport since 1933, and it is internationally recognized for travelers to show they’ve been immunized against diseases like yellow fever and polio. The new challenges include coming up with digital ways to show proof of vaccination, and not leaving behind people who may not have access to certain technology. These types of digital vaccination proofs could be a “lifeline” for tourism-driven countries badly hit by the pandemic.
She says, “Basically, all these ‘vaccine passports’ are is a digital record of your vaccination card. And so for an individual, if they want to have some sort of digital record of it that they can show people, that’s fine and they’re able to do that.”
Though government officials have said there won’t be a state-backed “vaccine passport,” the Biden administration is reportedly working with private sector businesses in developing solutions.
“Our role is to help ensure that any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy,” said White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients in a March 12 briefing.
Planning for Success
For the successful execution of membership organization events in a COVID-19 world, you’ll want to check the local state regulations for where your event is to be held, and look to see if there are similar executive orders, like those in Florida and in Texas. Local governance could impact your event and make an alternate state a better, safer place to host your event. Different parts of the country will have higher vaccination rates, which may also impact where you decide to hold your event. In states where the vaccine rate is higher, there could be fewer restrictions.
“For event planners,” Winnike added, “they want people to engage and participate in events, and so they need to look at what their membership wants. (You may find that) a lot of folks only feel comfortable going somewhere if they know the other folks are vaccinated, too. So if that’s what your membership wants, then event planners could feel pretty confident in putting that requirement on attendance.”
A vaccine requirement on attendance could actually increase attendance in some instances. It may make people feel safer and more comfortable attending an event to know that other people there will be vaccinated too.
We must bear in mind, though, that this is a global pandemic. While the vaccination rates of Americans are increasing, less-resourced countries lag behind in immunization rates. For events with international attendees, planners should consider the safest way to accommodate everyone — even if that means digital participation for some attendees — because we are all in this together.