By David S. D’Amato
As the availability of COVID-19 vaccines in the country increases, the subject of vaccine passports has come to dominate recent headlines.
The idea could have been lifted directly from the pages of dystopian fiction: citizens stopped at security checkpoints, the state forcing them to share proof of vaccination. The White House has hastened to distance itself from the idea, as ordinary citizens and experts raise concerns about its potential consequences (intended and otherwise).
One need not be an ideological libertarian to see that any kind of national vaccine passport sets a dangerous precedent. One might imagine that the supporters of such a controversial plan would be able to prove with relative certainty that its implementation would be efficacious. Not only is there no consensus in the expert medical community that this kind of system would work, passports could make matters worse.
Passports Hurt Minorities, Poor
Many public health experts believe that such a passport would actually help the spread of COVID-19 by lulling people into a false sense of security, as argued by Georges Benjamin, a physician and executive director of the American Public Health Association.
Benjamin further observes that a vaccine passport system could undermine trust in public health officials by leading to politicization, thus negatively impacting vaccine uptake, for example. Benjamin also highlights underappreciated race and class concerns, arguing that a vaccine passport system could aggravate racial and economic inequalities, punishing people for their lack of access to vaccines and medical care more generally. Just as government-mandated lockdowns have, the social and economic costs of a vaccine passport system would fall most heavily on racial and ethnic minorities and the poor.
My Body, My Choice
Bodily autonomy, specifically the choice to decide what goes into your body, does not come preset with a left or right character or branding. Government actors have a concrete interest in convincing us that such incursions do have a partisan character, that we should fight one another instead of serious attacks on our fundamental freedoms.
Libertarians are pro-choice on every political and social question; we believe that one’s body belongs to her, whether we’re discussing the use of recreational drugs or the decision of whether or not to receive a given vaccination. Government bodies—read: other ordinary people, the vast majority of whom were never even elected—have no right whatsoever to compel particular medical procedures or to limit, for example, our freedom of movement based on our medical histories.
Safety: No Guarantee
Better, smarter public policy requires that we don’t treat the state as if it is automatically or necessarily committed to the public good, whatever way that is defined (itself an extraordinarily complicated and controversial object of inquiry).
Neither should we treat government actors as necessarily motivated to do evil. We should strive to be consistent in our analyses, to hold the same set of assumptions for all people, regardless of the fancy titles we give them. After all, the truth would be difficult for most people to hear: putative experts still don’t have a clear picture of how deadly or how contagious COVID-19 is, and they have virtually no idea what the long-term social or health effects of policies like lockdowns or vaccine passports look like.
The world is in the grip of a contagious madness that incubates in the minds of the credulous and fearful. The truth, understood by well-balanced adults, is that there is no safety in this world, and our overlords’ attempts after a chimerical perfect safety are far more dangerous than any viral disease. They would have us believe that safety is attainable if only we meekly submit, forfeiting every last right, granting the bureaucratic state—anonymous, unelected, unaccountable—total power over our bodies and lives. Such a life is a life in name only. A sad, cruel mockery of what human beings naturally deserve.
The proponents of all kinds of authoritarian responses to the pandemic have attempted to frame the debate as one between the defenders of science on one side and unsophisticated, science-illiterate simpletons on the other. The truth is that the scientific way of thinking is based on humility and curiosity, cultivating an awareness of the fact that we actually know very little. The kind of arrogant certainty common among COVID-19 authoritarians is anathema to science and its methods. We would do well to remember.
David S. D’Amato (firstname.lastname@example.org<mailto:email@example.com) is an attorney, adjunct law professor, and member of the Board of Policy Advisors of The Heartland Institute. This article appeared in Red State on April 7. Reprinted with permission.