Israel wrestles with the immunity passport dilemma. America will in 2022

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The United States isn’t the only country struggling with the concept of immunity passports and what they could mean for the freedom and privacy of citizens. Israel has thus far been one of the most successful nations on the planet in terms of getting most of their population vaccinated in record time. They are already reportedly over the 80% mark, a figure that most medical authorities recognize as being above the threshold for the widely discussed concept of herd immunity. But that figure also leaves 20% of the population in the unvaccinated category. As the AP reports this week, it’s a subject that came as a slap in the face to a Tel Aviv makeup artist named Artyom Kavnatsky. Job opportunities finally began cropping up this month, but when he showed up for a photoshoot, he was asked for proof that he was vaccinated. Since he had not yet managed to get a jab, he was sent home and the job was given to someone else. His example has led the government of Israel to examine how they will handle these situations.

The breakneck pace of Israel’s vaccination drive has made it one of the few countries able to return to much of its pre-pandemic routine. Bars and businesses, hotels and health clubs have all sprung back to life in Israel, where some 80% of the adult population is fully vaccinated and new infections and COVID-19 deaths have plummeted.

While Israel provides a glimpse of what may be possible with high immunization rates, it also offers insight into the problems that lie ahead: Workplaces and schools are now grappling with what to do with those who refuse to get vaccinated as the next phase in the pandemic again pits public health concerns against individual rights and possibly new questions of equity. One case has already ended up in court, and others are expected to.

Airlines are already considering if vaccination, or a recent negative test, might be required for travel, as is the European Union. Some officials in Britain and the United States are exploring if proof of immunization could help large-scale gatherings to return, though there remains significant resistance to such measures in the U.S. Whether a shot is necessary to go back to work or class is an even thornier question.

Isreal has already implemented a system of “green passes” that allow vaccinated people to attend concerts, dine out in public and engage in other social activities. Schools are open, but unvaccinated children must learn remotely. Teachers must similarly be vaccinated if they wish to return to work. Nursing homes have imposed the same restrictions for both residents and caregivers.

Unvaccinated and unemployed people like Artyom Kavnatsky are calling these practices discrimination, but their complaints appear to be falling on deaf ears. The government of Israel is clearly willing to make this the law of the land in the name of taming the pandemic and its citizens have little to no recourse in response.

That’s much the case today in the United States, but it may not be forever. At The Hill, Max Greenwood describes immunity passports as possibly being the defining issue of the 2022 elections. And it may well be.

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Partisan battle lines are being drawn around coronavirus vaccine passports in what could become one of the defining issues of the 2022 midterm elections.

A growing number of the Republican Party’s most conservative members have seized on the passport proposals and expected guidance from the White House, blasting them as an example of government overreach that would isolate Americans who choose not to get vaccinated and violate the privacy of those who do.

But that strategy carries some risks for the GOP, potentially giving Democrats a platform to tout their response to the coronavirus outbreak while simultaneously forcing Republicans to navigate the politics of the pandemic well into 2022.

I can certainly see this being a major issue next year, but I’m not sure how much impact it will have on congressional elections as compared to state and municipal races. The reason for this is that almost all of the immunity passport action taking place at the federal level is happening via executive actions coming from the White House and the CDC. And even those have been limited in nature, frequently showing up as “guidelines” for the states and cities to follow. There really hasn’t been much discussion of any sort of federal legislation mandating such a plan, so the House members and Senators may never be forced to stake out a side in the debate by having to vote on it.

Where I would expect to see the biggest impact will be in the races for governorships and mayoral posts in the larger cities. Those are the people who have been cracking the whip when it comes to executive mandates, shutdowns and restrictions on public activity. And those executives are the ones who will have to stand before the wheel and be judged when they next come up for election. Challengers for those posts will have to explain to voters how they would have handled this and what, if any mandates they would put in place if elected. In the deep blue states and cities where liberals hold sway, more restrictive mayors and governors will probably fare pretty well. But in more conservative and independent regions, a lot of heads may wind up on the electoral chopping block.

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