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Vaccine passports are under discussion, a law and ethics expert weighs in

There's a raging debate about vaccine certifications, or so-called vaccine passports. A law and ethics expert offers some points to consider.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Health officials said the COVID-19 vaccines are a path back to normal life, but is another key part of that journey the ability to prove a vaccination?

Vaccine certification, or so-called "vaccine passports," is a topic of discussion in the public and private sector, and various levels of government.

The Biden administration has said there will be no federal database for COVID-19 vaccination information nor any federally mandated credential, but some states, including North Carolina, are working on ways for people to officially prove their vaccination status.

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RELATED: What you should (and shouldn't) do with your vaccination card

Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina's Health and Human Services Secretary, said Tuesday the state was exploring technological solutions and potential vendors for such a system.

"We just want to be able to make sure that folks can access their own information about that vaccine for whatever purpose they may need," Cohen said.

RELATED: VERIFY: No, a vaccine passport does not violate HIPAA

But what purposes might there be? Some have floated scenarios like work, travel, eating inside a restaurant, or attending sporting events.

Nita Farahany, a professor of law and philosophy at Duke University, asks people to consider all the possible consequences of such an expansive use of a vaccination passport before hopping on board with the concept.

"It's not that we cannot require vaccination in certain contexts. We do and we can," Farahany said. "It's a question of whether or not these passports are appropriate to be used by society, across the board, in many settings."

While Farahany knows the idea of a vaccine passport might give more people peace of mind to reenter society and frequent venues, knowing others around them are vaccinated too, she says it is important to make decisions about these systems when thoughts can be more deliberate and measured.

"What I would caution is... cases of emergencies or moments of crisis are the times when we give up the most rights and we can never ratchet them back," Farahany said. "We see that post 9/11, where we had a significant surveillance state that was established and has just expanded. It hasn't decreased."

Have a relative or friend in another state and want to know when they can get vaccinated? Visit NBC News' Plan Your Vaccine site to find out about each state's vaccine rollout plan.

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