How Comfortable Are Americans With Digital Vaccine Passports?

1 in 4 Americans have a digital vaccine passport or plan to get one soon; government overreach biggest concern across all political affiliations

By: SafeHome.org Research | Published: June 2, 2021

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Combined with a downward trend in positive tests and deaths, widespread vaccination has prompted officials all over the country to begin relaxing restrictions aimed at reducing transmission of the virus.

Ever since the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued surprising advice saying that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors, businesses and governments across the country have dropped mask mandates.

But these requirements rely largely on the honor system. One method of showing proof is flashing your vaccination card, but another method that’s gaining steam is the digital vaccine passport.

While it’s unlikely a digital vaccine passport will be mandated at the federal level, we wanted to understand the public’s comfort level with the concept. To understand how much public acceptance Americans have for vaccine passports, we surveyed about 2,600 adults regarding their feelings about COVID-19 vaccine passports and other areas related to the pandemic.

Key findings:

  • Most people believe vaccine recipients are tracked by the federal government (they aren’t). Two-thirds of people support a federal vaccine passport system.
  • Only 17 percent of people who are familiar with digital COVID-19 passports say they don’t plan to get one.
  • Most people believe digital vaccine passports will do at least some good, with safer social interactions being the most commonly cited benefit (27 percent). But by the exact same percentage, respondents said government overreach is their biggest fear when it comes to vaccine passports.

Passport Familiarity Low; Positive Feelings High Among People in the Know

Familiarity with digital vaccine passports hasn’t reached the majority, but among those who do know what they are, few people are dead-set against getting one. Less than half of the people we surveyed said they were either “somewhat” or “very” familiar with digital passports to verify COVID-19 vaccine status, while nearly 16 percent hadn’t heard of them at all.

Familiarity with digital vaccine passports
Never heard of them 16%
Heard of them, but not familiar 38%
Somewhat familiar 32%
Very familiar 14%

Among those who said they were either “very” or “somewhat” familiar with digital passports for COVID-19 vaccination, nearly one in three say they already have one. Only 17 percent of people who were familiar with the concept said they did not have any plans to get one.

Digital vaccine passport plans*
Already have one 31%
Plan to get one in next six months 24%
Might consider in the future 29%
No plans to get one 17%
* Among those “very” or “somewhat” familiar with vaccine passports

While Republicans were more likely than Democrats to say they already have a COVID-19 vaccine passport, Democrats were far less likely than either Republicans or independents to say they would not get a vaccine passport.

More than 30 percent of people who identify as independent said they have no plans to get a vaccine passport.

Digital vaccine passport plans by political affiliation*
Plans Democrats Republicans Independents
Already have one 33% 36% 21%
Plan to get one in next six months 30% 16% 21%
Might consider in the future 31% 24% 26%
No plans to get one 7% 23% 31%
* Among those “very” or “somewhat” familiar with vaccine passports

Vaccine passports are more common in those between the ages of 30 and 49, though at least one-quarter of those in all age groups said they already have a digital COVID-19 passport.

Digital vaccine passport adoption by age*
18-29 27%
30-49 35%
50+ 25%
* Among those “very” or “somewhat” familiar with vaccine passports who have already gotten one

About half of respondents who are familiar with vaccine passports say they’ve visited a business that requires proof of vaccination, but an average of nearly 60 percent say they would be likely to patronize an entertainment or travel business that mandates vaccine passports.

While Target, Trader Joe’s, and Starbucks have all recently dropped their mask requirements for vaccinated customers, it’s not common practice in these places to actually verify that information.

As with other coronavirus-related restrictions and policies, there’s very little consensus on vaccine passport mandates. For example, while California says it won’t require vaccine passports when the state lifts social distancing requirements, it provides venues with the ability to increase capacity if they check vaccine or test status of attendees.

Alabama, Texas, and Florida have all banned businesses and public entities from requiring vaccine passports, while Washington state recently issued a requirement that employers confirm workers are fully vaccinated before lifting any mask or social distancing rules they have in place.

Our research indicates the type of activity has some impact on whether people will be comfortable submitting to vaccine passport requirements.

Travel-related businesses, including airlines and cruise lines, had the slight edge when it comes to people’s willingness to submit to digital passport requirements. A combined 59 percent of people said they were likely to patronize a travel business that mandates a digital vaccine passport compared to just 56 percent for entertainment-related businesses, which includes restaurants, sports arenas, and entertainment venues.

Likelihood of patronizing businesses that require digital vaccine passport by type*
Likelihood Entertainment Travel Average
Very unlikely 11% 11% 11%
Unlikely 8% 7% 8%
Neutral 24% 23% 24%
Likely 36% 40% 38%
Very likely 20% 19% 20%
* Among those “very” or “somewhat” familiar with vaccine passports

Democrats were more likely than either Republicans or independents to say they’d be likely to support either travel or entertainment businesses that require digital vaccine passports. In both cases, a minority of independents said they’d patronize either a travel or entertainment business that requires passports, while just over half of Republicans said they’d be OK with that when it comes to entertainment.

Respondents likely to patronize businesses that require digital vaccine passport by type and political affiliation*
Affiliation Entertainment Travel
Democrats 68% 68%
Republicans 55% 48%
Independents 40% 39%
* Among those “very” or “somewhat” familiar with vaccine passports who said they were “likely” or “very likely” to patronize businesses requiring digital vaccine passports and self-identify by party

Some of the most popular apps and platforms include Clear’s Health Pass, which has been used at NBA games, and Carbon Health, which is working on a digital health pass in the city of Los Angeles that works with Apple Wallet and Google Pay.

Walmart is offering Smart Health Cards to those who got vaccinated at one of the retailer’s pharmacies, while New York state has its own Excelsior Pass.

Getting Back to Normal Cited as Biggest Benefit of Vaccine Passports

Most people who are aware of vaccine passports believe they will have at least some efficacy at reducing the spread of COVID-19. Only about 14 percent say digital vaccine passports won’t do anything to help attack the spread of the virus. Even in the global medical community, there is a great deal of debate on this subject, and the efficacy of vaccine passports remains under investigation.

Expected effect of digital vaccine passports on COVID-19 spread*
Major effect 18%
Moderate effect 42%
Minor effect 27%
No effect 14%
* Among those “very” or “somewhat” familiar with vaccine passports

Democrats have a much rosier view of digital vaccine passports’ ability to provide another control against the virus than either Republicans or independents. About 70 percent of Democrats said they believed the passports will have either a “major” or “moderate” effect on COVID-19 spread. Less than half of the other two groups said the same.

Expected positive effect of digital vaccine passports on reducing COVID-19 spread by political affiliation*
Democrats 70%
Republicans 49%
Independents 47%
* Among those “very” or “somewhat” familiar with vaccine passports who self-identify by party, “major” effect and “moderate” effect combined

Younger respondents were also more likely to believe digital passports will make a difference. About two-thirds of those 18-29 said passports will have a net benefit, while 56 percent of those 50 and older agreed.

Expected positive effect of digital vaccine passports on reducing COVID-19 spread by age*
18-29 65%
30-49 59%
50+ 56%
* Among those “very” or “somewhat” familiar with vaccine passports, “major” effect and “moderate” effect combined

When it comes to the specific benefits brought about by the use of digital vaccine passports, the most commonly cited benefit among all respondents who are aware of such passports was enabling safer social interactions. Helping businesses reopen was the third most common response overall, while few people said they saw no benefits from digital vaccine passports.

Biggest benefits of digital vaccine passports*
Safer social interactions 27%
Encourage vaccine use 22%
Businesses can reopen 20%
Digital safer than paper 11%
No benefits 10%
Digital easier than paper 9%
Other 1%
* Among those “very” or “somewhat” familiar with vaccine passports

Political affiliation was strongly tied to the belief that digital vaccine passports will have no benefits at all. Independents and Republicans are exponentially more likely than Democrats to say digital vaccine passports will do no good. Only one percent of Democrats said the passports won’t do any good compared to 14 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of independents.

Among other differences, Republicans’ top benefit was allowing businesses to reopen (23 percent), while about one in three Democrats said providing for safer social interactions was the single biggest benefit.

On the other end of the spectrum, the most cited concern about digital vaccine passports was government overreach. Nearly 30 percent of people said this was their biggest worry. Privacy and security concerns were also common.

Biggest concern over digital vaccine passports*
Government overreach 27%
Increased future tracking for other health information 25%
Privacy of health information 21%
Unfairness toward people who have limited vaccine access 14%
No concerns 7%
Accuracy 4%
Other 2%
* Among those “very” or “somewhat” familiar with vaccine passports

Not surprisingly, government overreach was a bigger concern for Republicans (35 percent) and independents (34 percent) than for Democrats, though at least 20 percent of each group said that was their biggest fear. Democrats (25 percent) and Republicans (27 percent) were similarly likely to say they worry that digital COVID-19 vaccine passports may lay the groundwork for future tracking of other health information, while only 20 percent of independents said that was their biggest concern.

In other national surveys, Republicans and those who lean to the right have consistently shown they’re much less likely to support any restrictions on activity, so this finding shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

Biggest concern over digital vaccine passports by political affiliation*
Concern Democrats Republicans Independents
Accuracy 5% 3% 5%
Government overreach 20% 35% 34%
Increased future tracking for other health information 25% 27% 20%
Privacy of health information 24% 20% 17%
Unfairness toward people who have limited vaccine access 16% 10% 15%
No concerns 9% 6% 5%
Other 0% 0% 4%
* Among those “very” or “somewhat” familiar with vaccine passports who self-identify by party

Most Believe Shot Recipients Are Tracked; Most Also Support Federal Vax Passport System

It may not rise to the level of a conspiracy theory that when you get vaccinated, you’re implanted with a microchip, but the majority of people we surveyed are under one big misconception: that the federal government has a records system to track individuals receiving the vaccine.

More than two-thirds of people said this was the case despite the fact that the data published by the CDC is aggregated data provided by the states on their own schedule and conforming to their own data requirements.

In this area, at least, Republicans and Democrats largely agree.

Belief that federal government tracks individuals who have received vaccine by political affiliation*
Republicans 74%
Democrats 71%
Independents 56%
* Among those “very” or “somewhat” familiar with vaccine passports who self-identify by party

While we found that most people erroneously believe that those who get vaccinated are somehow tracked by the federal government, we also found that there’s broad support for some type of national vaccine passport system.

The Biden Administration has said there will be no federal vaccine database or a requirement for a federal vaccine passport. Nearly 67 percent said they support a federal vaccine passport system.

While Democrats were more enthusiastic in their support of a national vaccine passport program, a majority of Republicans said they support it, too, while a slight minority of independents agreed.

Belief that federal government should have vaccine passport program by political affiliation*
Democrats 78%
Republicans 60%
Independents 48%
* Among those “very” or “somewhat” familiar with vaccine passports who self-identify by party

Conclusion

While the majority of Americans aren’t yet fully aware what digital vaccine passports are, the people who are familiar with the concept are largely upbeat about using them and how effective they might be at further stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Methodology

We surveyed 2,604 American adults on a range of topics related to the use of digital COVID-19 vaccine passports that verify whether a person has been fully vaccinated against the virus. Our survey was conducted in May 2021.

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