DENVER – Colorado health department officials said they would explore the possibility of coronavirus vaccine passports.
As of Monday, there is no statewide program for vaccine passports, The Denver Post reported.
“While we are exploring what’s working in other states, anything we do will be specific to Colorado and our needs,” a spokesperson for the state Department of Public Health and Environment said in an email. “A business could not access a customer’s protected health information, such as their COVID-19 immunization status, unless that person volunteered that information.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last Friday that any potential vaccine passports would be primarily directed by private businesses.
Vaccine passports have become a political flashpoint in the U.S. even as they have come into use in Israel and are under development in Europe. Some Republicans in the U.S. see them as heavy-handed government intrusion.
In New York, a government-sponsored vaccine passport called the Excelsior Pass is being introduced. The smartphone app will show whether someone has been vaccinated or recently tested negative for the coronavirus.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the idea is similar to letting an event venue usher use their own smartphone to scan a concertgoer’s code.
Live events in Colorado have already begun to open up as the U.S. continues its robust vaccine rollout. Red Rocks Amphitheatre was closed for most of the past year but will reopen later this month with a 2,500 person capacity. A spokesperson for the venue said it does not plan on having concertgoers show proof of vaccination yet.
“I don’t think anybody has come up with the right plan as of yet,” said Brian Kitts, a spokesperson for Denver Arts & Venues, which owns and runs Red Rocks. “For now, the plan is masks and social distancing.”
The Colorado Rockies hosted fans at Coors Field on Thursday for the first time since 2019. Team spokesperson Cory Little said the organization had no plans as of now to make visitors show proof of vaccination.
One concern about potentially implementing the vaccine passports is ensuring they are equitable for all people, said Dr. Matthew Wynia, director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus.
Despite experiencing higher rates of infection and death from the coronavirus, people of color have been vaccinated against the coronavirus at a lower rate than white people.
In Colorado, Latinos make up about 22% of the state population but only about 8% of those vaccinated. By comparison, 72% of vaccinated people are white. About 68% of the state’s population is white, according to data from the health department.
The system would also have to be equitable for people without access to advanced technology.
Even in the U.S., tracking vaccinations is not unique. Each state, including Colorado, maintains a vaccine registry that is used by public health officials, the Post reported.
“These have been around for a long time,” said Glen Mays, a professor of health policy at the Colorado School of Public Health. “It’s not unique to COVID.”
The database in Colorado is called the Colorado Immunization Information System and the state health department is currently using the database to track coronavirus immunizations across the state.
The information stored in the system is confidential, so while the state Department of Public Health and Environment can use it to report the total number of residents who have been vaccinated, the agency said it does not reveal any information that would identify specific people.
“Coloradans should be assured that business owners will not be able to access a customer’s protected health information, such as their COVID-19 immunization status,” a spokesperson for the health department said.