Virus Outbreak Massachusetts Vaccine

Antonio Loffa, of Natick, gets his COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site at the Natick Mall in Natick.

Everyone wants to get out from under COVID, and it can’t happen soon enough. The way back to normal is through vaccinations — that is, not only manufacturing and distributing doses but making sure they get into Americans’ arms.

There might be a relatively simple way to both speed the return to normalcy for the vaccinated and immediately incentivize more people to get the jab: a vaccine passport.

Vaccination is the best protection against this pandemic, and all of the vaccines available in the U.S. are highly effective at preventing contraction of COVID-19 and mitigating severe outcomes like serious illness, hospitalization and death. As with anything, there is no such thing as zero risk, but public health experts agree that fully vaccinated people face minuscule risk while commingling, especially compared to similar interactions between unvaccinated people or a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Slowly but surely, we are clawing back some of life’s pleasures that we took for granted until they were restricted to blunt the coronavirus’ brutal toll. Some are returning slower than others, including the kind of congregant events that many miss dearly, from plays and concerts to fairs and fan-attended sporting events.

Those kinds of activities could become a safe reality sooner, though, if there were some sort of universal documentation to easily prove you’ve already gotten the jab. Venues and businesses would then have an easy way to screen for and admit fully vaccinated people and safely resume certain activities sooner.

Israel, for instance, rolled out its “green pass” system last month, allowing the fully vaccinated (as well as those with documented immunity from contracting the disease) to have access to gyms, hotels and theaters as well as indoor service at restaurants and bars. The European Union, hoping to salvage the continent’s summer tourism season, is eyeing a similar plan.

It could work here as well, with myriad potential perks. For the vaccinated, it would spell a quicker return for the things that had to be sacrificed last year which normally bring much-needed vitality and merriment to summer in the Berkshires and beyond — ballgames, beerfests, theater seasons and community celebrations.

In turn, local and regional economies could get a boost as they look to recover. For the hardest-hit sectors like tourism, hospitality and the cultural economy, this could be a game-changer for the upcoming summer.

And it would act as a powerful incentive to get vaccinated. There’s no doubt the U.S. will soon have enough doses to go around. The final hurdle to herd immunity will be convincing enough people to get their shots. To that end, contextualizing vaccines as the express lane to fewer behavioral strictures and more fun would be a good step.

While this could be done at the federal level, it likely would be more efficient for Massachusetts to issue vaccine passports for commonwealth residents. The state already has the data on vaccinations, including who has been fully inoculated, and the Registry of Motor Vehicles has the infrastructure needed to supply the fully vaccinated with simple but tough-to-counterfeit cards or badges with photos.

If done quickly and correctly, it could be a meaningful step forward on the path back to normal for Bay Staters, and a significant advance in the fight on COVID-19.