A growing number of states have preemptively banned or restricted the requirement of proof of COVID-19 vaccination, or so-called vaccine passports. The vaccine passport – which could be digital, like a smartphone app — would show someone’s vaccination status and could potentially allow Americans to get a green light to participate in various activities like traveling nationally or internationally, attending crowded events like concerts and sports games, and even walking into businesses.
As the race continues to vaccinate the majority of Americans before COVID variants spread, the idea that proof of vaccine could be required by businesses or at public gatherings —similar to the way schools require children to be vaccinated for measles or chickenpox to protect public health — is catching on.
Biden administration officials have said the federal government will not be issuing a mandated vaccination credential. But officials left room for businesses and other entities to mandate proof of vaccination.
“There are a couple of key principles that we are working from,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a press conference on March 29. “One is that there will be no centralized universal federal vaccinations database, and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential. […] We believe it will be driven by the private sector.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical advisor, reiterated this in an interview with Politico Dispatch podcast on April 5:
“I’m not saying that they should or that they would, but I’m saying you could foresee how an independent entity might say, ‘Well, we can’t be dealing with you unless we know you’re vaccinated,’” Fauci said. “But it’s not going to be mandated from the federal government.”
Last month the New York State’s Excelsior pass passport program went live, allowing businesses to quickly scan these digital passes to determine a person’s vaccination status. Similar vaccine passports have been introduced in Nevada, Hawaii and California.
In California, for example, starting April 15, venues looking to host larger gatherings like concerts and sporting events, will have the option to host larger events if they require proof of vaccination of guests.
In November 2020, Australian Qantas Airlines CEO Alan Joyce said that he would mandate vaccinations for all passengers as soon as they become readily available. Crystal Cruises and American Queen Steamboat company have already enacted mandatory vaccinations before boarding.
But the restrictions being passed by states like Florida and Texas could limit this practice.
On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in an executive order, banned state agencies and some state-funded organizations from requiring proof of vaccination to access services.
“The Constitution does not empower the federal government to mandate nationwide vaccine passports for COVID-19, and Texas will not impose such vaccine passports with the police power that is reserved to the States under our system of federalism,” the executive order said.
Abbot categorized the ban as a “privacy issue,” saying in a statement accompanying the order: “We will continue to vaccinate more Texans and protect public health, and we will do so without treading on Texans’ personal freedoms.”
Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a similar executive order Friday banning the use of COVID-19 vaccination passports in the state, citing privacy and freedom concerns. The executive order said that “requiring vaccine passports for taking part in everyday life such as attending a sporting event, patronizing a restaurant or going to a movie theater would create two classes of citizens based on vaccination.”
“It's completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society," DeSantis said Monday during a press conference.
Here is a list of other states that have placed restriction or bans on COVID-19 vaccination passports, or are considering legislation that would do so:
- Arizona: Introduced a state House bill to prevent businesses from turning away non-vaccinated people
- Arkansas: A bill introduced in the Arkansas state legislature would prevent government officials from requiring vaccine passports as a condition of “entry, travel, education, employment or services."
- Iowa: An Iowa bill was introduced in the state Senate in February that would “prohibit employers, schools, health care providers and other organizations from discriminating against people who are not vaccinated or requiring them to be vaccinated,” according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.
- Louisiana: A Louisiana lawmaker has written up a bill that would prevent vaccination information from being included on driver’s licenses.
- Maryland: State Del. Daniel Cox has introduced a bill that would ban any proof requirement of any medical examination, test, or vaccination for employment or travel.
- Minnesota: The state Senate health committee has proposed legislation that would prevent the state from moving forward with a mandatory vaccination passport program.
- Missouri: The Missouri Senate is in the midst of reviewing legislation that would ban vaccination passports and documentation. Gov. Mike Parson said they will not be enacting a statewide vaccine passport but “is okay with” private companies adopting mandatory shot policies.
- Montana: Republican lawmakers put forth two bills that would ban discrimination based on vaccine status and would prohibit using vaccine status to obtain “certain benefits and services.”
- Nebraska: Nebraska introduced legislation in January that would “protect the liberty, parental rights and free market principles” of citizens with respect to accepting or declining a vaccination.
- Ohio: Ohio lawmakers are currently debating banning mandatory vaccine passports on a federal, state or local legislature level.
- Pennsylvania: Three state senators plan to introduce legislation that would introduce a vaccine passport program to Pennsylvania.
- Wisconsin: Republican lawmakers introduced two bills at the end of March that would bar health officials and employers from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations.
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