America’s next Covid-19 culture war is here

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Growing numbers of businesses, hospitality industries, and even sports teams are considering requiring proof of vaccination for customers, once the world begins to open up. For both patrons and staff, such a system might offer peace of mind — and could stop a cruise voyage around the Caribbean, for example, from turning into a floating super spreader.

Countries where Covid-19 rates are low might soon start demanding inoculation information before they let tourists in. It’s not that different from parents showing proof of vaccination typically required to enroll kids in American schools, or those little yellow vaccine cards already required to travel in countries threatened by yellow fever, tuberculosis or other scourges. Yet the idea of “vaccine passports” has become the latest object of right-wing politicians’ outrage.

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Everyone’s favorite conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene, a member of Congress from Georgia, branded vaccine passports as “Biden’s mark of the beast” and “fascism or communism or whatever you want to call it.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential Republican 2024 presidential candidate, has also seized on the idea as an issue that will play to the GOP base. “It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society,” DeSantis said.

For the record, President Joe Biden is not actually planning to mandate vaccine passports or to set up a central vaccines database that raises the specter of Big Brother surveillance trampling American individualism. The White House says it is trying to work with companies to set standards for vaccine passports and to ensure people’s privacy is protected.

Nevertheless, it is an ethical minefield. Should businesses bar people who are not vaccinated? Can employers make vaccines a condition for accepting a new job? Certainly vaccines should be available to anyone who wants one before such filtering systems are introduced. But equally, is it fair for an American who endangers others by refusing vaccination to get the same benefits as others? Rent-a-quote politicians stirring fear and anger about the issue are not doing much to help.

New rules

Team USA athletes are now permitted to hold up a fist, kneel, and wear garments promoting racial and social justice at competitions, according to new rules published Tuesday by the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee. Those who choose to do so will be following in a well-trod path — Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze medalists in the 200 meters, made history at the 1968 Olympic Games with the black power salute in support of African Americans’ civil rights.

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Postcard from London

My hands are chapped from a day wiping down patients’ chairs with disinfectant as a volunteer at a local Covid-19 vaccination center — they didn’t have gloves in my size. But raw knuckles seem like a small price to pay for my tiny role in getting the United Kingdom vaccinated.

The UK’s vaccination rollout has so far been a roaring success, with 50 doses of vaccine administered per 100 people, according to data tracked by CNN. It’s the largest country by far to have such a high vaccination rate. But the shots came too late to prevent a grimmer statistical superlative: The UK also has one of the highest per capita Covid-19 death rates on Earth.
The US with its turbo-charged inoculation program is in a similar position: Awful death tolls and impressive vaccination figures. Both countries failed to contain the coronavirus when it first appeared — but after a lethal year, Covid-19 now appears to be a problem they can solve with massive spending on vaccines. In this crisis, vaccines are a magic bullet for sale, and the US and UK have money. But both countries may have lost out on a teachable moment; they won’t be able to buy their way out of the world’s other enduring crises.
Technology is moving slowly on coming up with a similar solution for climate change. And there are no magic bullets at any price for sexism or racism or poverty, as the UK faces up to its problem of violence against women in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard; systemic racism intertwined with its colonial history; and the shocking fact that in one of the world’s wealthiest countries, many children would go hungry without free meals at school.

Those problems require permanent and profound changes in human behavior on a massive scale — the kind of changes that we initially needed to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but now thanks to vaccines, are preparing to forget. — CNN’s Richard Greene writes from London



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