Should retailers welcome vaccine passports?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/courtneyk
Apr 30, 2021
Tom Ryan

From sports stadiums to cruise lines, airlines to universities, proof of vaccination is increasingly the ticket for special access or outright entry for the public. Should retailers and food establishments follow suit?

So-called “vaccine passports” are still evolving but typically take the form of a smartphone app that confirms someone’s vaccination status.

In Israel, which is leading the world in vaccination rates, a “green passport” gives holders access to places like restaurants, gyms, theaters, hotels, concerts and synagogues. In March, the New York State’s Excelsior passport program went live, allowing businesses to quickly scan digital passes to determine a person’s vaccination status. California and Hawaii are working on similar vaccine passport systems.

Advocates believe vaccine passports could incentivize more individuals to take the shot and speed the return to “normal” life. The more vaccination rates increase, the more consumers are expected to be comfortable dining out, traveling by air, heading to the movie theater and shopping without the get-in-get-out mindset.

A new Ipsos global survey for the World Economic Forum of over 21,000 adults taken between March 26 and April 9 found 66 percent agreed that vaccine passports will be widely used in their country by the end of the year. Among the respondents, 77 percent felt vaccine passports should be required of travelers entering their country; 67 percent agreed large public venues should require a vaccine passport and 55 percent agreed vaccine passports should be required in shops, restaurants and offices.

Requiring proof of vaccination would be a further step in keeping workers safe and reducing shopping apprehensions. Dining areas may be able to fully reopen and events that involve large gatherings may also become doable with a proof-of-vaccination mandate.

A growing number of states are passing laws banning vaccine passport restrictions, however, largely citing privacy concerns. Some critics see passports as discriminatory. Fraud is also predicted without official standards for privacy or for verifying the accuracy of the records.

The British government recently changed course in saying vaccination status would not be a requirement for entry to restaurants and pubs. Pub owners had fretted about the return of civil liberty confrontations caused by mask mandates.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Would the use of vaccine passports speed the return of customers to retail stores and restaurants? What do you see as the pros and cons for businesses in states where passports are used?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"States with passport programs will attract consumption. Physical safety and peace of mind will convince consumers to let down their guard and open their wallets."
"A vaccine passport is going to create a new class distinction that will have people arguing on both sides, i.e. privacy vs. safety. But businesses are free to implement it..."
"The way then is to have latitude in implementation on the ground, while strongly promoting vaccine passports since it makes daily lives easy, and potentially maskless."

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29 Comments on "Should retailers welcome vaccine passports?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Passports for foreign travel are reasonable and, given the myriad of existing security and identity checks, do not impose too much of an additional burden or imposition. However I am adamantly opposed to government mandated passports for everyday activities such as going to shops or movie theaters. It’s potentially discriminatory, an invasion of privacy, and represents a very serious erosion of freedom. President Biden has similar concerns, which is why he has ruled out federal mandated passports. Of course what individual businesses do is entirely up to them, but I don’t think there will be much take-up given that it will deter customers and potentially reduce takings. Our priority now should be to roll out the vaccine and get back to normal as quickly as possible – not to use this as an excuse to create some kind of authoritarian, Big-Brother society.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Yes. Privacy concerns are being over-hyped. The reality is those who have gotten vaccinated know that this is the only way to prevent lockdowns again or horrors like India is experiencing. This isn’t about Big Brother – it is about not going backward.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Of course. There are no cons, and I am hoping there’s a national passport, since our governor in Florida appears determined to not allow them in Florida. No political commentary today — but retailers should welcome them!

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Sorry, Paula, no cons? How does a retailer enforce this? Take down the “mask required” sign and replace it with “passports only”? Or worse, “mask required without a passport.” Imagine that confrontation.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Sorry. It’s part of entry requirements and if done right, humans don’t have to be involved.

Listen, on some level, I don’t care. I am doing what I have to do. But this “state by state” thing is crazy making. Period.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

So true Paula. I am fully vaccinated. We require kids to be vaccinated to go into school. This can all be done electronically like holding up your phone. I think some people want to not be vaccinated so they don’t want the passport and run the risk of us going backwards. I think in the face of science, that makes no sense.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

If not for the 25 percent who are vaccine-hesitant, we probably wouldn’t need to have this discussion. Proof of vaccination is widely accepted as the “price of entry” to send your kids to school, or even to send your dog to the kennel. The issue has been politicized beyond recognition — just like mask-wearing — but it would be a useful digital tool for those who are fully vaccinated even if it’s not mandated.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

Given that we have a significant percentage of the population who refuses to believe in modern medicine and has turned vaccines and mask wearing into a political statement, it does seem that some measures need to be created to ensure their right to be stupid doesn’t affect the rest of society’s health and safety.

I like the idea of vaccine passports, they do seem to be effective in Israel. I struggle with how they would be enforced exactly and I don’t want to put the front line retail teams into yet another position to have to confront ideologues and bigots. I think there needs to be more consideration about how this might be enforced.

Schools, universities, employers, travel – those venues have much easier mechanisms for screening and enforcing vaccinations. Maybe they will have enough influence on the population to make this happen.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Yes, Gary, enforcement would be a pain.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

Agreed that placing the burden of enforcement on retailers is unfair and probably not viable, but only because it’s such a new concept. It shouldn’t be this hard — you need a license to drive, a passport to travel and a vaccination record to attend public school. We’re going to have to come to terms with vaccine tracking as a relatively painless way to stop current and future pandemic spread. Those who don’t trust the science can still shop, just not in-store.

Gary Newbury
Guest
This area is a minefield of cultural, political and economic clashes and barriers. It is fairly clear to me that having passports to go about your daily business infringes so many assumptions we have about free societies, liberal democracies and developed nations. Measures must be proportionate to the risks and if one looks at the direct hospitalization, ICU and death rates and compare these to the population, there are some challenges with a policy of vaccine passports. Additionally, with the vaccine, while it lessens the impacts of the virus (and its variants), one can still catch it and transmit it. The vaccine is more anti-viral than a “once and for all” medical treatment. On this basis the government policy pushing a vaccine passport would be one of ideology, rather than fact based analysis. Surveys continue to indicate hesitance with vaccinations, for those who can work at home, a preference to do so, and a reluctance to get back into pre-pandemic shopping habits as each restriction is relaxed. Additionally here in Canada where there’s a shortage… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

We’ll never get back to 100 percent in movie theaters, on cruise ships, in restaurants, until everyone’s vaccinated. Given that a portion of the population straight up refuses to get the shots, I don’t see a way around a vaccine passport. What is the alternative?

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

So, what do I get if I show a passport? Entry that is denied to others — mask or no? The right to enter sans mask — thus identifying all my fellow shoppers and diners wearing masks as “deniers”? This is not a good idea for retail establishments. Either require all patrons to wear masks or don’t — but instituting anything that discriminates is discriminatory. And we’re against that — right?

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Masks have been taken off the table for the vaccinated, except at large indoor gathering. So yeah — deniers will soon be identified. Am I supposed to feel badly about this?

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

For times like these, policies are often made as they go, with little time to think of unintended consequences. One could pick holes all day in the implementation – what about someone in a group that doesn’t have a vaccine passport, what about children, what is the validity of these, etc.?

The way then is to have latitude in implementation on the ground, while strongly encouraging/promoting vaccine passports since it makes daily lives easy, and potentially maskless.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Actually, unlike the original shutdowns — where decisions had to be made in days, or even hours — we DO have time to think about unintended consequences … as evidenced by this being a discussion topic.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I am vaccinated. I wish everyone who could be, would be. But, how does the retailer use it effectively? Certainly, they will not exclude those who are not vaccinated, nor should they. Do they say, you are not vaccinated, you must wear a mask? Those fights get really ugly.

For certain travel situations if the requirement is a negative test or vaccine passport, I am all for it. But, for everyday retailers and activities, please let’s not make it the haves and have nots.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

It would be made into the haves and the have nots due to one media group using these issues for profit, which I find disgusting.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Yes, vaccine passports would hasten sales growth for retail stores and restaurants. Issuing the passports is like granting parole to companies and consumers who suffered during a year-long confinement.

States with passport programs will attract consumption. Physical safety and peace of mind will convince consumers to let down their guard and open their wallets. Socializing will bounce back from a source of anxiety to a desirable source of fun and belonging.

Potential cons include hacking and a patchwork approach to passport rollout. A standardized approach across states to protect consumer privacy could mitigate risk and improve clarity.

Trevor Sumner
BrainTrust

While safety is an ongoing concern and we should as a society encourage vaccination, vaccine passports at retail will not fly with the public. It’s a level of intrusion that shoppers will not tolerate in an age of ever improving convenience and whose benefits will be unclear. We are quickly getting to a point where reckless anti-vaxxers will flip the supply-demand curve for vaccines, and the goal should be public education and the individual and societal costs of not getting vaccinated. A big marketing push with more extreme language is needed. For example that anti-vaxxers are “pro-COVID-19,” etc. These are people who are not only putting their own well-being at risk, but those around them. But it is not up to retailers to enter this fight, and the costs to convenience, brand image and operational overhead are untenable.

Chuck Ehredt
BrainTrust

Retailers don´t require passports today and I doubt for most, it will improve confidence for those shopping, or those trying to figure out where to shop. Requiring this would just add friction. For non-retail venues, passports may be much more relevant if people are in close proximity and people are not wearing masks.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

I understand the issue and potential requirement for travel across international borders. The issue will become one of reciprocity. You honor our vaccine passport and we will honor yours. However this will require that a system be in place to ensure the passports are valid. The same is true for states that require them for certain purposes.

Requiring one for entry into a retail store or to be able to eat in a restaurant is another matter. The pandemic has changed how customers shop. It also has taught us that we don’t have to go into a restaurant to get their food or a store to buy their goods. For many of those who for whatever reason don’t want to get the vaccine they can continue to order delivery, pick up curbside, or order food online. Will requiring one act as an incentive to get the vaccine? For some the answer is yes but for many others it will be no.

Venky Ramesh
BrainTrust

During the Spanish Flu pandemic, we did not have any of the technology we have access to now. We as humans can do a much better job of leveraging technology to counter this virus invasion. I strongly believe in the idea and utility of a vaccine passport. However how it will be used can be debated. I see this as a TSA-pre service, where people who have a TSA-pre stamp can pass through the security faster, but they still have to pass through the security. No one should be denied an entry unless there are sure signs they pose a threat to other shoppers in any way. Lastly, I strongly support some kind of a national or even an international passport. We have the wherewithal to do that – so why aren’t we?

Yogesh Kulkarni
BrainTrust

A vaccine passport is going to create a new class distinction that will have people arguing on both sides, i.e. privacy vs. safety. But businesses are free to implement it as long as it works for them. It does make economic sense for businesses that are dependent on people being in physical proximity to each other such as theme parks, salons, pubs or restaurants, etc. This will be a hard one to implement though for retailers- they will stick to the mask mandate until the large popular demand swings the other way.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

This is a really dismal, emotional, gut wrenching — and necessary conversation we have to have. Things are improving because of all the actions being taken by believers, wearing masks and getting vaccinated. It’s not because the deniers are right about anything. Low compliance or early relaxing of standards will give us more scenarios like we are witnessing in India. It’s exhausting that this still has to be debated, but I know which retail establishments I’ll be visiting.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

All interesting, but I believe it would be illegal, violating HIPAA laws and a host of other issues around medical conditions such as vaccination records. It’s also a slippery slope if retailers have the ability to ask for this kind of information. Lastly is the amount of time it takes to roll it out. A vaccine passport program might take longer to implement than it will take most Americans to get vaccinated. The holdouts will find ways around this anyway.
It won’t be much of a value add for retailers to invest in.