America is getting its first real vaccine passports. On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that, soon, proof of vaccination will be required to enjoy the city's bars, restaurants, gyms, and concert venues.
"We know that strong, clear mandates help," said de Blasio during a press conference announcing his "Key to NYC" initiative. "If you're vaccinated, you have the key. You can open the door. If you're unvaccinated, unfortunately, you will not be allowed to participate in many things."
The new rules apply to customers and workers alike.
The mayor's policy goes far beyond the city's vaccination efforts thus far, which have been limited to positive incentives, like a $100 reward for getting vaccinated, or more targeted vaccine requirements aimed at healthcare workers and new city government hires.
Some restaurants and fitness centers, including Equinox and SoulCycle, have already required their members to get vaccinated.
The policy will go into effect on August 16. The mayor said that city inspections of businesses to ensure enforcement of the new rules will begin in early September.
The reaction from the business interests who'll have to enforce this new mandate has been mixed.
"Mandating vaccine requirements for restaurant and bar employees and customers to work and dine indoors is a very difficult step but ultimately may prove an essential move," said Andrew Rigie, head of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, in a statement. It could prevent even more burdensome "shut down orders that would again absolutely devastate small businesses that have not yet recovered from the pandemic," he added.
The National Restaurant Association (NRA), in contrast, came out against the new requirement.
"Checking vaccination status isn't like ID-ing a customer before serving them a drink," Larry Lynch, the NRA's senior vice president of science and industry, told NBC. "Now, without training, our staff members are expected to check the vaccine status of every customer wanting to eat inside the establishment."
Those opposed to vaccine passports might also be concerned that the policy will soon spread to other jurisdictions. That's something de Blasio is banking on.
"We're seeing California follow suit. We're seeing the federal government follow suit," he said at today's press conference in reference to the city's past pandemic policies.
The COVID-19 vaccines are a real miracle of modern medicine. Their recipients, while still vulnerable to infection, face almost no risk of serious illness or death.
People who decline to get vaccinated at this point might not be making a wise decision. Nevertheless, it's themselves and other unvaccinated people that they're principally putting at risk.