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As European Nations Look to National Health Passes, Can the U.S. Learn Any Lessons?

With the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreading rapidly and the pace of vaccinations slowing, France and now Italy have chosen to turn to a new tool: ordering people who seek to enter most public venues — including restaurants, movie theaters and sporting venues — to provide health passes.

To participate in public life, people in those countries must prove they have been vaccinated or had a negative test within the last 48 hours.

The full roll out in France has yet to begin and Italy just announced their decision Thursday, so it is hard to know how it will work in practice or what impact it will have.

But the mere announcement of the new measure in France led to a rush of people getting their shots.

More than 3.7 million people booked a first-injection appointment in the week after the country’s president, Emmanuel Macron, announced the plan in a July 12 address. Nearly 50 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated.

The move has also been met with a backlash, as more than 100,000 people marched in the streets last weekend to protest what they say is government overreach.

Still, as the U.S. confronts its own increase in coronavirus cases driven by the Delta variant, local, state and federal authorities are looking for ways to increase the uptake of the vaccine.

A national policy relying on vaccine status to circumscribe behavior would be difficult for the U.S. to adopt. The country’s approach to the pandemic has always been highly decentralized. From mask mandates to testing requirements, there has never been a universal federal policy that was mandated across the 50 states. Likewise, America has no nationally recognized standard proof of vaccination.

The European Union, on the other hand, recently unveiled a “Digital Green Pass,” which shows a person’s vaccination status. It is recognized by all the nations in the bloc and has already eased travel between nations, allowing vaccine status to play a role in restrictions upon entry.

In Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently reversed what had been a hard-line stance against making people prove their health status for entry to social and cultural venues, there is a nationally recognized app from the National Health Service that can be used to quickly check vaccination status.

But there is fierce political resistance to the idea of adopting mandatory rules around a health pass when it comes to social and cultural life within the U.K. Even the mere suggestion by Mr. Johnson sparked outrage from many lawmakers and it is unlikely to be considered until September, when all adults will have had the chance to be vaccinated.

For months, U.S. states and local governments have been offering a panoply of incentives to get people to take the shot.

By May, Ohio, Colorado and Oregon were among states offering $1 million lottery prizes for people who got the jab. Prizes large and small — including free beer in Erie County, N.Y. and dinner with the governor of New Jersey — may have driven some to be vaccinated, but the pace of vaccinations has slowed more than 80 percent since mid-April.

Attempts at mandates by private industry have been met with court challenges.

A federal judge upheld Indiana University’s requirement for vaccination, rejecting arguments from students who contended the mandate was unconstitutional.

The C.D.C.’s attempt to impose mandates on the cruise industry is now being fought in federal court after the state of Florida challenged the rules.

Even efforts by private hospitals to require health workers to get vaccinated have been challenged.

But while a national policy similar to those being rolled out in France and now Italy may be unlikely, it remains to be seen if states will look to find their own ways to increase vaccination rates — not by the prospect of prizes but with threats of making life harder for those who do not want to be vaccinated.

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