Philly Bar Owner Says He’ll Require Vaccine Passports From All Customers

Plus, at least one huge Philly concert is requiring you show that little card for access to the pit. Is this the future of social life in Philadelphia?

a CDC COVID vaccine passport card

A COVID vaccine passport card in the United States (Getty Images)

It happened over the weekend. I got a text from the owner of a bar in Philadelphia that’s been closed since March of 2020. He hopes to fully reopen soon and invited me to a sort of soft reopening at the bar later this month. But he made it very, very clear that I could only attend if I was fully vaccinated. I would need to provide my COVID vaccine passport — or no drinks for me.

“You will need to bring both your ID and CDC card,” wrote the bar owner, who asked to remain anonymous for the purposes of this article. “Only fully vaccinated folks will be at this event.”

Around the same time, a friend told me about the big Dead and Company performance at Citizens Bank Park in August. (Dead and Company is the current iteration of the Grateful Dead — dancing bears, aged hippies and such.) For $779 per person, you can buy a “Golden Road Super VIP Experience” package that includes, among other things, parking, two paltry drink tickets, and access to the pit, that coveted standing-room-only, high-energy area right in front of the stage.

But if you want to actually get into that pit once you slap down $779, you’ll be forced to show your COVID vaccine passport.

From the official Dead and Company website:

For all dates on Dead & Company’s 2021 Tour, proof of COVID-19 Vaccination will be required to gain entry to the GA Pit. Please keep this in mind before purchasing a package that includes a GA Pit ticket as packages are non-transferrable and non-refundable. If a GA Pit ticketholder does not have documentation, they will be provided an alternate viewing location. There are no exceptions to this policy.

According to a source familiar with the particulars of the Dead and Company tour, this vaccination requirement came from the band itself.

As for the owner of that bar, he says that once he does open to the general public, said general public will only include those who can produce COVID vaccine passports. “I’m mentally prepared to be cursed at,” he told me.

Meanwhile, stores including Target, Best Buy, Home Depot, Macy’s and Costco have all said over the past week that they no longer require fully vaccinated customers to wear masks. But you won’t have to pull out your vaccine passport to go shopping; the stores are relying on the good ol’ honor system.

That’s tricky, says Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia vaccine expert Paul Offit. “What about the past year tells you that adults are out there doing what they should be doing?” he asks. “We couldn’t even get a significant part of the population to wear masks. There’s still so much denialism. And we are still in a pandemic. So no, I don’t trust my neighbor to do the right thing.”

Offit says that while the country is making progress in getting people vaccinated, vaccination rates are much lower in some parts of the country than others, and we’re still far, far away from herd immunity. (According to CDC data, the current vaxxed rate in Philly is 33.7 percent, based on the total population.) He points out that the summer will probably be relatively mild as far as COVID cases are concerned, but that autumn could present a completely different scenario if herd immunity isn’t reached.

“We need to incentivize the hell out of getting people vaccinated before the fall,” Offit insists. “This is a winter virus, and if we don’t do what we need to do, the bill is going to come due next winter.”

Offit would like to see more bar owners and concerts require COVID vaccine passports, particularly for indoor events. A representative of a major Philadelphia indoor-event venue who asked to remain nameless told me that while there are currently no events on its schedule that require proof of vaccination, that could easily change at any time, and probably will.

Naturally, this idea of businesses requiring proof of vaccination raises more than a few eyebrows. Just in talking with acquaintances of mine over the past few days about this issue, I found one well-traveled person who said he’ll boycott any country that makes him show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter (there’s a growing list of those) — and he has been vaccinated. Another person got angry at the idea of a bar requiring him to “disclose private medical information” just to have a drink inside.

Offit isn’t moved.

“You just show a card!” he says. “Before we had the vaccine, we were requiring temperature checks and PCRs. Now, it’s just show a card! This is not a novel concept. If you go to some countries where there’s yellow fever, you must show a yellow fever vaccination card to get in. In many states, you can’t go to school without providing vaccination information. To work at CHOP, you have to get a flu vaccine. To stay employed at CHOP, you have to get a flu vaccine. What is so difficult to understand about all of this?”

University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Zeke Emanuel — yes, the same Zeke Emanuel who outraged Eagles fans everywhere by saying the team shouldn’t play amid COVID — tells me he fully expects the COVID vaccine passport to become de rigueur.

Emanuel is speaking at a health event in October that requires vaccination proof through Health Pass, a product of COVID-screening app Clear. In June, he’s heading to Switzerland for some work he’s doing with the World Health Organization, and he’ll present his proof of vaccination — or, as Emanuel puts it, “my little slip of paper” — to enter the country.

He’s a big theater fan and looks forward to returning to performances soon but says he won’t attend a show unless a proof-of-vaccination policy is in place. “People who are vaccinated will want to be around other people who are vaccinated,” Emanuel says. “Businesses are going to recognize this and will have to adapt.”

But won’t businesses worry they’ll lose customers if they suddenly prohibit anybody who doesn’t have a vaccine passport?

“Do you remember what happened when the government started mandating non-smoking policies in bars?” Emanuel asks. “The bars were all worried they would lose customers. And what happened? It actually brought people in. And the same thing will happen here. Who wouldn’t want to go to a bar where you know that all of the other customers are vaccinated?”