Yale Daily News

As New Haven prepares to lift many COVID-19 related restrictions, residents are asking if vaccine passports — documentation proving that an individual is vaccinated — will be a part of the reopening process.

During a March press event in Bridgeport, Gov. Ned Lamont said that conversations about vaccine passports would happen once the vaccine became available to all residents. On April 1, all Connecticut residents aged 16 and above became eligible for the shot, but Lamont has yet to announce a verdict on vaccine passports. However, he stated in March that he expects “some type of passport or validation [system] … probably led by the private sector.” 

“The New Haven Health Department will follow all vaccine prioritizations as outlined by the State and Governor Lamont,” Director of Public Health at city of New Haven Maritza Bond wrote in a March email to the News. “A plan and messaging will be forthcoming on how we exactly will implement these new prioritizations.”

A week ago, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated individuals — those who have waited for two weeks after their final vaccine dose — are allowed to opt out of mask wearing during outdoor activities, unless in a large crowd. The European Union also announced that U.S. citizens could be allowed to travel to Europe once they are fully vaccinated. As the city of New Haven prepares to fully reopen on May 19, officials have not yet declared any plans for vaccine passports, and residents remain divided on the subject.

New Haven Republican Town Chairperson John Carlson wrote to the News in a message that he disagrees with vaccine passports, saying that he believes that vaccine passports are not necessary for the city to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“While anyone who is high risk or who simply wants to get the vaccine should get it, no one should be forced to,” Carlson said. “The precautions that have been taken over the last year are fine and there is no need for a ‘Covid passport.’”

Duncan Goodall ’95, owner of local New Haven cafe Koffee?, told the News in a phone interview that he is not “all that comfortable” with the state of Connecticut telling him who he can and cannot allow into his establishment.

Goodall also noted how inconvenient it would be for businesses to check a passport for every client as they enter. Effectively, he said, the business would need to hire a new employee to serve as a “bouncer” at the door and check each card. Goodall added that if this were required, he would revert to the method he used last summer, which was to close seating and take orders through a window that kept employees and customers safe.

“I can imagine circumstances in which having some sort of provable document or way to determine who hasn’t kind of got their vaccine would be valuable,” Goodall said. “But it’s a tool, and it’s a tool that I think the government is right to provide. But then let us use the tools as we see fit … Businesses can figure out pretty quickly if it’s worthwhile screening people out or not.”

But some businesses in the city, like the infamous Toad’s Place, do not have the option of modifying their business model. Toad’s Place owner Brian Phelps recently told News 8 that he would be open to only admitting fully-vaccinated people. 

Phelps noted that his business does not have the option for social distancing given its nature as a dance club, but said he eagerly hopes to open for students soon. 

“I would do anything at this point to just get the right to open up,” said Phelps. “And not at 25 percent [capacity], that won’t do me any good. I lose money at 25 percent.”

Yale announced in an April message that vaccines would be mandatory for on-campus students by the start of the fall 2021 semester. The message noted that students are expected to “document their vaccination status,” which a vaccine passport could help keep track of. The University has yet to announce if vaccinations will be required for staff and faculty and anticipates making a decision in June.

Connecticut ACLU Executive Director David McGuire wrote in a press release that vaccine passports can raise privacy and civil rights concerns in the state. He cited the state’s “deeply inequitably rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine to date” as a cause for concern. McGuire noted that creating “preferential access” to necessities such as housing or employment based on vaccination status could perpetuate disparities in the state.

“Instead of conjecturing about potentially problematic measures that may not work, we encourage the state to focus on creating an equitable vaccination rollout that truly includes people with disabilities and Black and Latinx people, and on robust public education efforts regarding the vaccine,” McGuire wrote. 

New York recently announced its voluntary vaccine passport program, known as the “Excelsior Pass.” Using an app, individuals can scan a QR code while entering venues such as sports matches, concerts or restaurants to show proof of vaccination. In the app, individuals are also asked to show a photo ID, while adults can scan a different QR code on behalf of accompanying minors. Businesses can use the app to verify any vaccination requirements they decide to impose.

The CDC reported that as of Tuesday, 3,336,075 vaccine doses have been administered in Connecticut. 

Ángela Pérez is City Editor of the YDN. She was a former beat reporter, covering City Hall and Women's Volleyball. She was a former editor and writer for the WKND desk. She is from Puerto Rico and plans to major in Architecture.