A growing number of governors in Texas, Florida and Arizona have announced executive orders curtailing the use of so-called “vaccine passports,” or documentation of the Covid-19 vaccine.
These states joined several others who have pushed back on vaccine certification, arguing it violates privacy and civil rights. While the Biden administration said it won’t build a national vaccination app, private companies are racing to create digital passports that show proof of immunization.
As of Sunday, the government said half of all adults in the U.S. have received at least one Covid-19 shot. About 32.5 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, previously told NBC News that states’ executive orders are unlikely to have much impact.
“Governors have no power to prohibit cities or counties from issuing passports or banning the private sector,” he said. “But if the Florida or other state legislature passed a law, it could preempt local governments from issuing passports.”
President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told Politico that the federal government will not mandate vaccine passports for businesses or travelers.
“Development of a vaccine passport, or whatever you want to call it, will be driven by the private sector,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week, noting that the administration does plan to provide recommendations for digital vaccination certificates so there are applicable standards nationwide.
Such passports, which have been under consideration by the private sector for months, could be scannable QR codes people could pull up on their phones or simpler green check marks or red X’s.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed an executive order Monday banning vaccine passports in the state and preventing state and local governments from asking individuals to provide their vaccine status to receive services or access facilities.
“The residents of our state should not be required by the government to share their private medical information,” Ducey said. “While we strongly recommend all Arizonans get the Covid-19 vaccine, it’s not mandated in our state — and it never will be.”
The order does not apply to private businesses. Health care institutions, child care centers, schools, or universities are authorized to collect vaccination records under state law. It also permits state and local health departments to require individuals to provide evidence of a vaccine “during a Covid-19 outbreak investigation.”
Similarly, in Montana, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte issued an executive order prohibiting the development and use of vaccine passports. Under the order, the state and businesses are barred from requiring people to share whether they have been vaccinated or not.
The ban protects “individual liberty and personal privacy,” said Gianforte, who also encouraged Montanans to get vaccinated.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, issued an executive order prohibiting government entities from mandating such passports or verification of vaccination to receive public services or access to facilities.
“Vaccine passports create different classes of citizens,” Little said in a statement. “Vaccine passports threaten individual freedom and patient privacy.”
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order on April 6, stating that no government agency in Texas can require someone to receive a Covid-19 vaccination or show proof of immunization. It also says public and private institutions that receive government funding cannot deny someone who fails to show documentation of vaccination.
“As I have said all along, these vaccines are always voluntary and never forced,” Abbott said. “Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives.”
At the beginning of April, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rolled out an order prohibiting the state from issuing vaccine passports or evidence of immunization.
“Today I issued an executive order prohibiting the use of so-called COVID-19 vaccine passports,” DeSantis, a Republican, said in a tweet. “The Legislature is working on making permanent these protections for Floridians and I look forward to signing them into law soon.”
In the order, DeSantis said such records are private information, “which should not be shared by mandate,” and that “vaccine passports reduce individual freedom and will harm patient privacy.”
The ban also prevents businesses from requiring customers to show verification of a Covid-19 vaccination or post-transmission recovery.
Allan Smith contributed.