Passports of Privilege

35 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2021 Last revised: 17 May 2023

Date Written: April 19, 2021


All Americans sixteen and older are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. However, many will not be able to access such vaccinations due to their work situation, health status, and inaccessible vaccinates sites. Some have suggested that the use of vaccine passports, credentials used to gain access to places and countries by showing proof of vaccinations, may encourage people to get vaccinated. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare deep inequities in our society, and this Article argues that the use of vaccine passports would further exacerbate such chasms. Part I of this Article describes the differences between immunity passports and vaccine passports and the scientific uncertainty about their use, given the novel nature of this virus. Part II discusses whether the use of vaccine passports are legal in the United States. Part III discusses the ethical problems of immunity serving as a marker for the privilege to re-enter society, and the unwise focus on a technological fix for what is essentially a public health and equity disaster. While vaccine passports arguably may produce greater absolute economic benefits in the short term, a more equitable approach would be to address the social determinants of health and thereby spur far greater distributional economic benefits in the long term.

Keywords: Vaccine passports, vaccine passport, immunity passport, health equity

Suggested Citation

Mohapatra, Seema, Passports of Privilege (April 19, 2021). 70 Am. U. L. Rev. 1729 (2021), SMU Dedman School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 515, Available at SSRN: or

Seema Mohapatra (Contact Author)

SMU Dedman School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 750116
Dallas, TX 75275
United States

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