The White House is working with more than a dozen groups to develop guidelines for vaccine passports that could be used to get people back to work, according to a report by the Washington Post published on Monday.
Even though it is perfectly legal for a U.S. company to mandate its employees be vaccinated before returning to the office, the news that the Biden administration is helping to develop guidelines to ensure any vaccine passports are rolled out in a coordinated manner, was met with outrage on pretty much all sides.
But while many raised valid questions about data privacy, and said vaccine passports would favor the wealthy and exacerbate inequality, far-right figures used the news to spread disinformation and create more fear about vaccines at a time when a significant proportion of the adult population is already hesitant to get the jab.
Leading the charge was QAnon-supporting Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
“They are actually talking about people’s ability to buy and sell linked to the vaccine passport,” Greene tweeted. “They might as well call it Biden’s Mark of the Beast.”
Greene was referring to an apocalyptic passage from the Book of Revelation that suggests that Satan will test Christians by asking them to put a mark on their bodies. The “mark of the beast” conspiracy theory has gained traction in QAnon and anti-vaxx communities online in recent months, as the vaccine rollout began.
But Greene was only getting started. Next she compared vaccine passports to abortion, saying: “The same people that support killing other people in the womb claiming, ‘my body my choice’ are the same people demanding you must have #VaccinePassports and it’s not your body or your choice.”
Following the publication of the Washington Post report, the White House sought to clarify its role in the development of the passports. “The government is not viewing its role as the place to create a passport nor a place to hold the data of citizens,” White House COVID-19 Response Team advisor Andy Slavitt said Monday.
Slavitt’s comment echo White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients, who told reporters earlier this month that his team’s role “is to help ensure that any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy.”
Indeed an example of one of these digital passports is already in operation in New York. Called the Excelsior Pass, it was launched last week and can now be used to gain access to wedding receptions and other events in excess of social gathering limits.
When someone pointed this out to Greene however, the freshman lawmaker responded by calling the plan “corporate communism.”
“The private companies that do not mandate vaccine passports will have more customers and money than they can comprehend,” Greene wrote. ”The Corporate Communists will be committing HIPPA violations and will have more lawsuits than they can comprehend.”
Greene appears to have been referring to HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects sensitive health information from being disclosed without a patient’s consent.
When Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that his state would introduce emergency legislation to ban something that hasn’t been announced yet and that the White House says it’s not developing, Greene chimed in again, saying her home state should follow suit.
A number of people attempted to point out to Greene that vaccine passports have been a reality for many years: as people travelling to certain countries have to show they have been vaccinated against the likes of yellow fever and rubella before being allowed entry.
And this is not just a U.S. endeavor. Governments, airlines, and tech companies are all rushing to develop similar apps for smartphones that would facilitate the opening up of travel and economies globally.
Despite this, right-wing lawmakers in the U.S. appear to believe the Biden’s government has some sort of nefarious goal in helping develop these passports.
Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, who like Greene has previously voiced support for QAnon, called the passports “unconstitutional,” while Rep. Jim Jordan from Ohio compared the introduction of vaccine passports to the passports immigrants present on the southern border.
And many others claimed the vaccine passport effort showed the Democrats’ hypocrisy, linking it to the party’s resistance to voter ID laws, once again ignoring the fact that this effort is being spearheaded by private groups rather than the White House.
One of the loudest points making this point was Donald Trump Jr., who claimed the vaccine passport was going to be required to travel within the U.S. There has never been a suggestion that this is what the passports would be used for.