Approving a vaccine in the U.S. usually takes years, but COVID-19 vaccines are moving through in record time. What does that mean?


The claim: Mastercard is partnering with vaccine companies; those who do not get vaccinated will not be able to get money or make purchases

Cashless payments may become routine in a post-pandemic society. But they could also create an entirely new problem, claims a Facebook post.   

“Plan for the future: If you don’t get vaccinated with ALL vaccines — child and adult — you will not be able to get money or purchase anything including food,” asserts text above an apparent news article, “Vaccine Companies Partner with Mastercard to Merge Vaccines with Cashless Money System.”  

The post goes on to urge its readers to “stand up NOW and tell the government that #WeDoNotConsent,” calling for action before January, otherwise “we will not be able to do anything.” January appears to refer to the expected distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The post, shared by Australian Vaccination-risks Network, a nonprofit Australia-based anti-vaccination organization, has received over 230 shares and 250 interactions since July 27.

“Surly (sic) this against human rights?” asks one commenter. 

“Is there enough of us in this world to create our own system, our own cash and own economy?” asks another. “I think there is.”

AVN did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment. 

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Digitizing vaccination records

In 2018, Mastercard announced it would partner with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, in creating a “digital immunization record” like a credit card to be used in underserved communities where life-saving childhood vaccines are crucial. 

“Children, especially those living in the most remote, impoverished communities, lack immunization records,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, in a December 2018 press release. “That represents an enormous impediment to Gavi’s mission of ensuring that every child worldwide receives the essential vaccines they need to survive and thrive. This partnership with Mastercard has the potential to overcome that challenge.”

A child’s parents or guardians can present the card, or Wellness Pass as referred to by Gavi, to any clinic or health care provider who will be able to easily review vaccination records. The card will be linked to a phone number so appointment reminders can be sent. Centralization of immunization records will also allow local governments to assess vaccination programs and adjust accordingly.

The digital immunization record makes use of technologies developed by Mastercard’s Digital Wellness program, introduced in June 2019 for small businesses to help improve digital safety. The Wellness Pass will be deployed in interested countries eligible to receive vaccine support from the organization.

In June 2020, Mastercard announced Trust Stamp, an artificial intelligence-powered biometric startup, would also be involved in the project. The startup was tasked with incorporating its digital identification technology, called Evergreen Hash, as a means of privacy protection. The technology works by taking a photo of a face, palm or fingerprint, and converting it into data that is secure and safe from misuse. That encrypted data, or hash, would be unique to an individual and especially useful in communities or countries where identity documents are not commonly used.

In a statement to USA TODAY via Jeff Weintraub, a U.S.-based media consultant, Gavi said the privacy protection will, “in the immunisation context… allow health providers to ensure that each child receives the right vaccines at the right time without disclosing information that can identify them.”

The Gavi-Mastercard Wellness Pass, with Trust Stamp’s technology, is to be released in West Africa. A COVID-19 vaccination could be among the many documented in the digital immunization record once an approved formula is released.   

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Vaccination and individual rights

There is nothing to suggest vaccination refusal would result in prevention or loss of any financial freedom. This technology is not being considered for developed countries like the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia or New Zealand, where vaccination coverage is not a significant concern. The news article shared in the Facebook post links to another news article, which does not mention such a consequence, and nor does Mastercard or Gavi.

“There is nothing about this solution that means someone who doesn’t get vaccinated won’t get money or food,” confirmed Alisdair Haythornthwaite, senior vice president of Thought Leadership and Policy Communications at Mastercard, in an email to USA TODAY. “Digital technology is essential for safe, secure access to vital services for people in the most marginalized communities.” 

Similarly, Gavi stated the partnership with Mastercard was only for the public health good.

“The Gavi-Mastercard partnership is using Wellness Pass only to achieve important public goals and not for any commercial purposes,” said the organization in the same statement to USA TODAY.  

“Also, Wellness Pass has no connection to any systems that provide money to the immunized children or their families to purchase essential goods.” 

In the United States, vaccination requirements are handled at the state level and have different legal requirements applying to either patients, health care workers or both.

According to the CDC, “All states require children to be vaccinated against certain communicable disease as a condition for school attendance”; this mandate covers children attending public and private schools, and day care facilities. All states provide medical exemptions and some allow religious or personal belief exemptions.

When it comes to COVID-19 vaccination, states may have the authority to mandate vaccination but it largely remains to be seen what states may require.  

Our ruling: False 

We rate this claim FALSE because it is not supported by our research. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, partnered with Mastercard to create a digital immunization record that uses technology from Mastercard’s Digital Wellness program and privacy protection technology from biometric startup Trust Stamp. The digital immunization record in the form of a card, also known as the Wellness Pass, will be deployed in countries that opt in for vaccine support from Gavi. That does not include developed countries. Policies with regard to COVID-19 vaccination remain to be seen, but regardless, there is no evidence to suggest vaccine refusal or exemption will inhibit one’s financial abilities.

Our fact-check sources:

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