Vaccine passports being developed to verify COVID-19 immunization status and allow inoculated people to more freely travel, shop and dine have become the latest flash point in America’s perpetual political wars, with Republicans portraying them as a heavy-handed intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices.
They currently exist in only one state — a limited government partnership in New York with a private company — but that hasn’t stopped GOP lawmakers in a handful of states from rushing out legislative proposals to ban their use.
The argument over whether passports are a sensible response to the pandemic or governmental overreach echoes the bitter disputes over the past year about masks, shutdown orders and even the vaccines themselves.
Vaccine passports are typically an app with a code that verifies whether someone has been vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19. They are in use in Israel and under development in parts of Europe, seen as a way to safely help rebuild the pandemic- devastated travel industry.
They are intended to allow businesses to more safely open up as the vaccine drive gains momentum, and they mirror measures already in place for schools and overseas travel that require proof of immunization against various diseases.
But lawmakers around the country are already taking a stand against the idea. GOP senators in Pennsylvania are drawing up legislation that would prohibit vaccine passports, also known as health certificates or travel passes, from being used to bar people from routine activities.
“We have constitutional rights and health privacy laws for a reason,” said Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, a Republican. “They should not cease to exist in a time of crisis. These passports may start with COVID-19, but where will they end?”
President Joe Biden’s administration has largely taken a hands-off approach on vaccine passports.
At a news conference this week, Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said he considered them a project for the private sector, not the government.
He said the government is considering federal guidelines to steer the process surrounding vaccine passports. Among its concerns: Not everyone who would need a passport has a smartphone; passports should be free and in multiple languages; and private health information must be protected.
Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday issued an executive order that said no governmental entity can issue a vaccine passport, and businesses in that state can’t require them. He said he expected the Legislature to pass a similar law.
His order said requiring “so-called COVID-19 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.”
Material published with permission of the Associated Press.