For many years now, I’ve felt like Big Tech has become far too intrusive an influence in the lives of people throughout the world. From Edward Snowden’s revelations about domestic surveillance to the overwhelming influence of social media, there have been many times recently where I’ve felt an urge to throw my smartphone out the window and start afresh in a lost wilderness. In this vein, I feel that the idea of a “vaccine passport” is another step toward a surveillance state that could easily be used for deeply nefarious purposes in the future. (Editor’s note: Missouri’s governor has said he won’t require such passports; the legislature is considering measures to ban them in the state.)
Full disclosure, I am not an anti-vaxxer. Far from it, I jumped at the opportunity to become vaccinated as my workplace is on the front lines dealing with the public, and I’m constantly at risk of being exposed to the coronavirus. I have dutifully lined up for both Pfizer vaccinations and had no misgivings whatsoever. I wanted to see my aging parents again. My children have followed the full pediatric vaccination schedule. Many horrible diseases were eliminated through herd immunity: polio, measles, diphtheria.
My deep reservations about the COVID-19 vaccine passports are basically two-fold, and I will succinctly list them:
1. The passports are engineered through a Big Tech apparatus that is inarguably the most invasive we have yet seen in the modern age. Wedded to an insecure IBM platform that is clunky at best — the New York rollouts have been disastrous — there seems ample opportunities to use this information for privacy hacking, favoritism, forging, as well as myriad other abuses. Where does this stop?
“Immuno-privilege” is a real thing, passed down through the ages like a talisman to enhance one’s own prestige or figurative worth. Indeed, one would argue that some aspect of this has already happened, as those who could work from home during this pandemic did just that and could ride it out until they received a vaccine, while those of us who had to work the front lines were not given that privilege. Anecdotally, I have heard of, and in fact seen, hierarchies working themselves out within families and even friendships. Those who are vaccinated or have less “high-risk” jobs tend to be favored.
2. The inexplicable blood-clotting that has occurred in young women in regard to the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is a terrifying new development. If it is determined that people with certain conditions or blood types could never receive a COVID-19 vaccine, or, alternately, for the citizens who oppose the vaccines on philosophical or religious grounds, what of those people? Are they then society’s pariahs, doomed to obscurity, underemployment, denied educational opportunities and left to wither on the vine? I cannot think of a more dystopian future than one where terror of this awful virus allows us to make Darwinian choices like these.
My wife, who is also vaccinated, and I have had long talks about the efficacy of giving our children the COVID-19 vaccine. As someone recently pointed out, these young, healthy girls have about as much chance of dying from COVID-19 as being struck by lightning. These vaccines are “emergency use” only and have yet to get FDA approval. There is no real guarantee that they would prove to have much efficacy at all for children. My girls will not be receiving a vaccine until, at the very least, they are FDA approved.
Since the “War on Terror” began in earnest in 2001, we have seen our privacy rights slowly and inexorably slip away. I would argue that, among all the things I cherish as a recipient of the profound riches of the Enlightenment, the great classic liberal ideal of individual freedom and choice is something I value as much as the fantastical advances in modern medicine and science, which have improved mine and billions of other lives. Let us never see the latter used as a cudgel over liberty.
I fear, though, it is perhaps too late.
Seth Smith is a Columbia resident.