Businessman turned-politician Andrew Yang has called for New York City to adopt a digital certificate showing proof of Covid-19 vaccination. Social media reactions highlight the double-edged nature of the proposal.

Yang, who announced his candidacy for New York City mayor last month, told CBS News that even with the rollout of vaccines, many people will still feel uncomfortable patronizing bars, restaurants, and other venues that have been struggling to survive following months of coronavirus restrictions. According to the entrepreneur, who rose to national prominence during his unsuccessful bid to become the Democratic presidential nominee, a new form of medical ID would help give people peace of mind and “speed up” the Big Apple’s economic rebound. 

“One way we can accelerate that process is by having a vaccine passport that you can have on your smartphone,” Yang said. “You can just very quickly demonstrate that you’ve been vaccinated and you can go into that restaurant or venue and then take your mask off and literally breathe easier knowing that everyone there has been vaccinated.” 

Noting that many businesses rely upon the millions of tourists who visit the city each year, Yang argued that New York “needs” a vaccine certificate in order to make people “excited” and “confident” to return. 

But reactions to the proposal reflect the highly divisive debate about using immunization as a means to grant certain privileges. 

Some hailed Yang’s “progressive thinking” and expressed hope that venues will require proof of vaccination for all people, including employees. 

Others showed skepticism over the idea, accusing Yang of discarding personal privacy and making vaccination into a “business.”

Ethical concerns notwithstanding, one commenter argued that tourists would actually be less likely to visit the city if they were forced to acquire the new form of identification, making Yang’s proposal counter-productive and even harmful. 

There were also questions about Yang’s understanding of the science behind the Covid-19 jabs currently on the US market. 

The vaccines, developed by Pfizer and Moderna, have not been tested in trials to determine whether they stop or reduce transmission of coronavirus. Currently, both have only been shown to help prevent severe symptoms resulting from a Covid-19 infection. 

In fact, Yang’s contention that being vaccinated would allow people to forgo masks and other measures is at odds with statements issued by the World Health Organization. The WHO’s chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, said last month that there was no evidence that the Covid-19 jabs being administered across the US and Europe stop people from transmitting the virus to others, meaning that it would be premature to loosen social distancing and other precautions. 

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This isn’t the first time that Yang has advocated for vaccine passports. In December, he sparked a fierce internet debate after insisting that there “ought to be” a way for people to show proof of vaccination, “like a bar code they can download to their phone.” Best known for his advocacy of universal basic income, Yang has floated a number of outside-the-box coronavirus policies, including using ice cream trucks as mobile vaccination centers. 

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