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Vaccine passports pose ethical thicket for Biden administration

The White House says the government shouldn’t issue the credentials or store the data.

States, airlines and tech companies are pressuring the Biden administration to develop a federal standard for vaccine passports — a policy that could speed the economic recovery but might also discriminate against disadvantaged groups and jeopardize privacy.

Digital credentials showing proof of a person’s Covid-19 test results and vaccination status are rapidly being embraced as a tool to redesign workplaces and jump start travel and tourism. New York State is trying out an “Excelsior Pass” to fast track reopening theaters and venues like Madison Square Garden. Hawai’i is developing a version that would let visitors skip the state’s mandatory 10-day quarantine.

But without White House involvement, industry leaders say they’ll be left with a confusing patchwork of unregulated and unreliable tracking tools that could invite fraud and raise troubling questions about risk and fairness.

“We need some leadership from the federal government,” said Marcus Plescia, the chief medical officer of Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, noting unchecked, rapid deployment could result in a passel of systems don’t talk to one another.

The White House says the government shouldn’t issue the credentials or store the data. But it’s held discussions with tech firms on how a passport system might work, asking for details about whether pharmacies and other establishments might provide the necessary data.The Department of Health and Human Services has also sought input from 25 federal agencies on the passports, including if they’d encourage their own employees to use them, sources familiar with the conversations say. HHS’ national health technology office declined comment.