White House discusses federal mandate for COVID-19 vaccine verification
The White House said it expected the private sector to take the lead on verification of COVID-19 vaccines, or so-called vaccine passports, and would not issue a federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.
The Biden administration was reviewing the issue and would make recommendations, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday, but she added, "We believe it will be driven by the private sector."
Japan is gearing up to issue digital health certificates to citizens who have been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, joining China, the European Union and others that have adopted similar measures aimed at opening up overseas travel, the Nikkei reported on Saturday.
Psaki said the White House was leading an inter-agency process looking at these issues, and would provide guidance in line with several key principles:
"There are a couple key principles that we are working from. One is that there will be no centralized universal federal vaccinations database, and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential," she said.
"Secondly, we want to encourage an open marketplace with a variety of private sector companies and nonprofit coalitions developing solutions. And third, we want to drive the market toward meeting public interest goals."
Psaki said the Biden Administration would work to ensure that all vaccination credential systems met key standards such as universal accessibility, affordability and availability, both digitally and on paper.
She gave no indication when the process would be completed.
Biden White House in talks with airlines on vaccine passports; will issue guidance
The Biden administration is in extended discussions with U.S. airlines and other travel industry groups to provide technical guidance for vaccine passports that could be used to ramp up international air travel safely, industry officials said.
The administration has repeatedly made clear it will not require any businesses or Americans to use a digital COVID-19 health credential, however. It will also publish guidelines for the public.
The key question, airline and travel industry officials say, is whether the U.S. government will set standards or guidelines to assure foreign governments that data in U.S. traveler digital passports is accurate. There are thousands of different U.S. entities giving COVID-19 vaccines, including drugstores, hospitals and mass vaccination sites.
Airline officials say privately that even if the United States does not mandate a COVID-19 digital record, other countries may require it or require all air passengers to be vaccinated.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that the administration would provide guidance "that provides important answers to questions that Americans have, in particular around concerns about privacy, security, or discrimination, soon."
On March 22, major U.S. airlines and other travel groups urged the White House to "develop uniform Federal principles for COVID-19 health credentials" that would ensure they can "securely validate both test results and vaccination history, protect personal data, comply with applicable privacy laws, and operate across local, state and international jurisdictions."
Singapore on Monday said it will start accepting visitors who use a mobile travel pass containing digital certificates for COVID-19 tests and vaccines, while Iceland said last month it is opening its borders to all visitors who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 without mandatory testing or quarantine.
Psaki said on Tuesday that the U.S government will not require Americans to carry a credential. "There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential," she said.
Psaki noted that there is a push "in the private sector to identify ways that they can return to events where there are large swaths of people safely in soccer stadiums or theaters."
She added "that's where the idea originated, and we expect that's where it will be concluded."
(Reporting by David Shephardson and Heather Timmons; editing by Jonathan Oatis)