White House Rebuffs DHS Secretary’s Comments About Possible ‘Vaccine Passports’ for Travelers

May 28, 2021 Updated: May 28, 2021

The White House on Friday attempted to downplay comments made by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about a possible vaccine passport system being implemented for travelers coming into and out of the United States.

Mayorkas earlier Friday told ABC News that the administration is taking a “very close look” at passport-like systems and said that “one of our principles that has guided us throughout this pandemic is the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and making sure that any passport that we provide for vaccinations is accessible to all and that no one is disenfranchised.”

But in a rare public disagreement, a Biden administration spokesperson said that the White House hasn’t changed its stance on a federal-backed passport system.

“We haven’t moved on our stance on this,” principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One in response to questions about Mayorkas’s statement. “There will be no federal vaccination database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”

When asked further about Mayorkas’s claim about a vaccine passport, Jean-Pierre said that “the U.S. government recognizes that other countries have or may have foreign entry requirements.”

“We will be monitoring these and helping all U.S. travelers meet those,” Jean-Pierre added, “but there will be no federal mandate requiring anyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”

The European Union, some Asian governments, and the airline industry are scrambling to develop COVID-19 vaccine passports. Those governments working on systems that would allow travelers to use mobile phone apps to prove they’ve been vaccinated, helping them avoid quarantine requirements at their destinations.

Earlier this month, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration’s view is “that the federal government will not be playing that role,” adding: “The private sector may, and it may prompt the private sector moving forward on actions, which is where we think it is appropriately situated.”

Vaccine passport-type systems have become a point of controversy, with several Republican-led states banning state and local governments from implementing them. Some states have also moved to prevent private businesses from using passport systems as well.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on March 31 said it has significant concerns about possible “compromises and failures that are likely to happen” when implementing any type of passport system.

“We also worry that a vaccine passport will encourage over-use,” the civil liberties group said. “The issues around passport design are separate from the question of where and when people can be required to furnish proof of vaccinations, but if a passport system makes it very easy to ask for and to provide proof of vaccination, it’s likely that such requests will become over-used as people get asked for credentials at every turn.”