There has been much debate about the introduction of COVID passports aimed at restricting daily activities to the unvaccinated. COVID passports have been implemented in some European countries, like France, and have awakened much debate and controversy in the United States as well.
Usually, the calls for implementing wide-ranging COVID passports come from the left side of the political spectrum, while the right tends to strongly disagree in their implementation. However, the Democratic mayor of Boston has joined the chorus of those who oppose the measure, saying they will disproportionately affect black and minority voters.
Kim Janey, who has been the acting major of Boston since her predecessor left for a cabinet position in March, said last week that requiring proof of vaccination for entering restaurants, gyms, and other places would “disproportionately affect” minorities, she also compared the measure to historical examples (like during the slavery era) when minorities were required to “show their papers”.
Although the mayor then said she regretted making a comparison between COVID passports and slavery-era legislation, she continued her holdfast opposition to imposing this type of broad system. The mayor said that taking that decision would shut down neighborhoods with either black or Hispanic majorities as they are the ones who are showing lower vaccination rates than whites.
Kim Janey’s opposition to COVID passports is an interesting outlier in her party
Janey, who is also running for reelection, said that “instead of shutting out” the neighbors where minorities live, her administration is “knocking on their doors to build their trust” and to convince them to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. The mayor’s opposition to imposing a vaccine passport that would disproportionately affect minority neighborhoods was immediately panned by many of her fellow opponents for the Democratic nomination.
The position of Janey remains an interesting one in the world of Democratic politics, as New York develops the first wide-ranging COVID passport program in the nation, with NYC mayor Bill de Blasio asking for proof of vaccination for indoor dining. While New York has imposed the system, other democratic states (like Illinois and Colorado) have admitted to considering the measure.
Republicans, on the other hand, have turned decisively against COVID passports. A substantial number of states led by Republicans (and even some Democratic ones) have banned the possibility of implementing a passport system in their states, as of today, there are 19 states have passed legislation banning them.
However, is not only mayor Janey and Republican politicians who oppose the implementation of vaccination passports. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization that no one can argue leans conservative, also has opposed the policy because of the risks it presents to personal privacy and because it could lead us to be a “checkpoint society (…) that casually excludes people without credentials”.
Impacting minority communities
Although Mayor Janey might have made some overblown comparisons between vaccine passports and slavery or Jim Crow-era restrictions, the underlying data is definitely on her side. A study on the COVID data of about 40 states, made by the Kaiser Family Foundation, shows that the vaccination rate among Whites is higher than those within Hispanic or Black populations across the states studied.
While almost half of the white population (49%) have received at least one dose of the covid vaccine, only 43% of Hispanics and 38% of African Americans have done the same. The data varies considerably between states, with some states like Louisiana showing no significant difference between different ethnicities, while others like Iowa show a significant difference in the vaccinated population of whites, blacks, and Hispanics.
Massachusetts, which is the state where Boston is, actually presents one of the starkest differences in vaccination rates between Whites and minorities. According to the data from the Kaiser Foundation, while 69% of Whites have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, only 58% of Blacks and 53% of Hispanics have done the same.
In the specific case of Boston (Suffolk County), the disparity is even worst, while 64% of Whites are at least partly vaccinated, only 52% of blacks and 55% of Hispanics have received at least one shot. In other words, the mayor is very much right, requiring proof of vaccination for daily activities would disproportionately hurt Black Americans the most.
When Democrats label a policy as racist, they usually use the argument that it would disproportionally affect black or Hispanic communities the most. That is the rationale behind labeling Voter ID or hard-on-crime policies as racist ploys. If they follow that same logic, then implementing a government mandate that would disproportionally restrict the freedom of movement of minority communities should be racist as well.