Should a 'vaccine passport' be required? Experts weigh in on future of eating out, boarding flights, and more

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It's the dream on the horizon, a world without masks, where you glide through the airport or sit down to dinner wherever you want. The question now is, will you need a so-called "vaccine passport" to get there? That is, proof that you've had the shot.

Some experts say it doesn't have to be that way.

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"If it comes out with a relatively high acceptance rate, 60-70%, then Miller time, we're done," says UCSF infectious disease expert Dr. George Rutherford, M.D.

But what if vaccinations begin to slow? Dr. Rutherford says the problems could begin if many months go by and some groups still have trouble getting a shot, or a significant number choose not to, leaving us short of the majority needed to reach over all herd immunity. At that point, some worry about a potential scenario of vaccine-haves and have-nots.

"And you're the one who gets to see the Giants play, you're the one who's going to get to go to an A's game, you're the one who's going to get to go to a restaurant, you're the one United Airlines is going to let on the plane," says Rutherford.

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From your workplace to the airline you travel on: who can require you to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

An airline trade group is already advancing plans for a vaccine travel pass. And the Department of Defense has released images of a vaccination record card for vaccine recipients. Could they become the calling cards of a temporarily split society?

"I'm not sure that I believe in airlines or restaurants doing that. I would say let's get everyone vaccinated as fast as we can," argues fellow UCSF infectious disease expert Dr. Monica Gandhi, M.D.

Dr. Gandhi points out that researchers haven't determined whether vaccinated people could still be infectious for a time. And she believes precautions will be critical in the months to come, even with increased pressure to return to normal.

"Wear a mask until enough of people have gotten the vaccine that we can all take off our masks," she advises.

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To speed that timeline some have suggested mandating vaccinations as soon as they're available for groups like students returning to school, possibly accelerating the drive toward herd immunity. Berkeley professor Arthur Reingold, M.D. is hoping that won't be necessary.

"I always prefer incentives and knowledge to mandates. Mandates are very unpopular. But mandates get the job done," says professor Reingold.

They believe that getting vaccines distributed as quickly and widely as possible is the key to avoiding potentially fractured months with the prospect of passport privileges and vaccine haves and have-nots.

"And that's how disease goes down, falling infection rates falling mortality," says Dr. Rutherford.

And perhaps ultimately realizing the elusive dream, a return to normal.

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