Depending on where you travel in the world, you may be asked to produce a “Carte Jaune” or “Yellow Card” that shows that you have been immunized against yellow fever.

That credential is the idea behind what many are calling “vaccine passports,” which would allow people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to safely travel, eat in restaurants and attend sporting events even as the disease is still spreading.

It’s an attractive idea, both for some businesses that want to open more fully and for immunized people who are tired of living under COVID restrictions. More than a third of Mainers have had at least one vaccine shot, and nearly a quarter are fully vaccinated. With eligibility set to expand Wednesday to every state resident older than 15, we should expect to see even more people who are ready to do the kinds of things that they have had to put on hold over the last year.

But in the near term, a vaccine credential is not going to speed up that process. For now, the thing that will bring life closer to pre-COVID conditions will be vaccinating as many people as possible.

A vaccine passport system might have been possible in the near term, if a registry of who has been vaccinated had been built into the vaccine distribution plan when it was designed. But we don’t have that kind of centralized system.

Since December, doses have been distributed to states, which have spread them out among a huge number of providers to administer. Multiple private vendors are developing smartphone apps that can verify whether someone has been vaccinated, but as with the rollout of electronic medical records systems a decade ago, it will likely take some time to work out the bugs in a new system.

Proof of COVID vaccination will almost certainly be a part of international travel for a long time. Depending on how well the virus is controlled in the months to come, an electronic vaccination record could also be part of our daily lives as well.

But for now, the only real way for us to return to a more normal post-COVID life will be for almost everybody to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Rather than penalize those who haven’t been vaccinated – or who can’t be vaccinated for health reasons – maximum effort should be focused on encouraging as many people as possible to get their shots so the virus has no place to spread. If we can reach herd immunity in the next few months, or 70 percent vaccinated, proof of vaccination will be irrelevant, because the disease won’t be spreading.

When it comes to encouraging vaccination, some employers are leading the way, like Bangor Savings Bank, which is paying a $500 bonus to employees who get vaccinated. Retail businesses might consider rewarding vaccinated customers, like the Krispy Kreme chain, which is giving a free doughnut to anyone who gets a shot.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that people who have been vaccinated can safely gather with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or observing social distancing. They can also travel safely.

But with the virus spreading and new cases on the rise, we shouldn’t lose sight of what it will really take to put COVID behind us. It’s not safe activities for a vaccinated few, but shots in as many arms as possible.


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