Opinion: I’m an ethics expert. CT needs vaccine passports.

Welcome to this monthly column. I am a professor of bioethics at the New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, where I have run the Division of Medical Ethics for nearly 10 years. We teach courses on ethical issues in medicine to medical students, resident doctors and attending physicians in the vast NYU heath care system. That means covering issues around truthfulness, privacy, the duty to disclose data on “dangerous” (infectious) patients, rationing scarce medical resources like organ transplants or ICU beds, end-of-life care issues, genetic testing and many, many others.

I have been working on vaccine issues, including COVID-19, for many years with the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Major League Baseball, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the NCAA and many other groups. You might have seen or heard me in the media as I am a regular guest on CNN, WGBH public radio in Boston and WOR in New York City.

I am a resident of Ridgefield, so I have a keen interest in what is going on in my town, county and state. And I am very interested in your thoughts, so please don’t hesitate to email me at Arthur.caplan@nyumc.org.

I think a vaccine passport for Connecticut is a good idea, one that is long overdue. Knowing who is vaccinated and letting businesses restrict access only to the vaccinated will reduce the threat from COVID and all its newer strains.

Gov. Ned Lamont is considering an online, phone-based ID system to help businesses confirm who is and isn’t vaccinated against COVID-19. A bar code could make it easy to scan your vaccination status from a phone. It would, Lamont said, be “purely the option of businesses” to require it.

When he announced this just after Thanksgiving, the COVID positivity rate in Connecticut had climbed to nearly 6 percent — the highest in the state in 10 months. And this was before omicron reared its head in our area.

Some say, “No way,” arguing that a vaccine card or passport restricts liberty and invades privacy. But they are wrong.

There is a long history of using vaccination certificates to control entry into countries. If you had no vaccine card, many countries would deny you entry. And our country won’t let you in as a tourist or legal immigrant without proof of a host of vaccinations, including COVID.

And if you think Connecticut can track you by having you carry proof of vaccination on your phone, realize that you are already being tracked by your driver’s license, bank, credit card company, Uber account, restaurant reservation app, Facebook, many other social media sites and even your health care provider. A proof-of-vaccination passport ought to be the least of your privacy worries.

Well, what if you don’t want to get vaccinated? Or you just don’t trust Hartford or any government?

A phone ID doesn’t mean you have to get vaccinated. And no one is making you get a card. Connecticut residents would remain free to choose to vaccinate. But for those who do so, the QR-coded phone card makes sense.

For government or private businesses, sports venues, casinos, theaters or recreational sites that do want to control access, the electronic card has many advantages. It is harder to counterfeit, easier to quickly access, easier for families with kids to use and can be quickly updated with information about boosters. It is much better than the paper card we get with the shots, which is not laminated and is easy to mangle or lose. And very easy to counterfeit.

A QR-coded phone card also allows businesses to attract customers by ensuring they are promoting vaccinations for their workforce and customers with a trustworthy means of verification.

Vaccination remains very controversial. But having standardized, easy-to-use proof of vaccination ought not be. There is no reason to make trustworthy proof of vaccination harder than it needs to be. And those who do responsibly vaccinate ought to have the right to have government make life easier for them.

Arthur Caplan lives in Ridgefield. He is the Mitty Professor of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center.