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4:13 PM, Feb 27, 2020

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Are vaccine passports discriminatory? A local attorney weighs in

Posted at 8:01 AM, Apr 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-08 08:01:53-04

(WSYM) — The question of a digital vaccine passport, or requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination, is sparking a lot of debate nationally and in Michigan.

Related: Will we see COVID-19 vaccine passports in the future? Here's what we know in Michigan

The Biden administration says it will not mandate a vaccine credential, nor has Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced plans to require a vaccine passport, as it's being called.

MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel said the state hasn't had discussions on vaccine passports.

“Right now, we want to make sure we’re getting vaccines out into the communities and to those people who want them and need them," she said.

But, the same can't be said for private businesses, schools, concert venues, or even places we travel. Still, the issue of privacy and discrimination come up with the talk of passports.

Oakland University in Rochester announced this week it will require proof of vaccination of students prior to move-in in the fall, if they're living on campus.

Will we see COVID-19 vaccine passports in the future? Here's what we know in Michigan

Ven Johnson, a Detroit attorney from Johnson Law, said that he believes people are absolutely going to have to use a vaccine passport in some form and that he believes it is not discriminatory. It's a political issue, he said, but not discriminatory.

"I don’t think this is really a discriminatory issue at all. When you talk about discrimination, you’re talking about race, color, creed, national origin. Issues that we have recognized under the law, under a protected class. Vaccinated or not vaccinated is not that," he said.

According to Johnson, people already have to show things similar to a vaccine passport in other areas of life, including at the airports, or taking kids to school to have them vaccinated. He also mentioned how people have to give their name and number for contact tracing at restaurants.

Johnson said he expects to see challenges over vaccine passports in the courts.

"I don't think they'll be successful. I think showing you're vaccinated is not discriminatory in any way," he said.

The ACLU is also voicing concerns over the prospect of digital vaccine passports, due to potential discrimination and privacy. For that reason, the agency said any proposal for a vaccine credential should be primarily paper-based and decentralized.

The ACLU does say though there are legitimate circumstances in which people may be asked for proof of vaccination, it's worried about excluding people or turning into a "checkpoint society."