Debate over vaccine passports heats up as states begin lifting pandemic restrictions

Coronavirus Vaccine

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19, some organizations are introducing so-called “vaccination passes.” They allow vaccinated people to participate in events that unvaccinated people cannot.  

Several cities around the world are rolling out digital vaccine passports that allow fully vaccinated people to travel, attend concerts, and even go maskless. 

But some lawmakers say these passports are a violation of personal liberty.  

While New York State rolled out the “Excelsior Pass,” Orange County, California is launching a pilot program to test out a digital vaccine passport of its own.

“The Digital Passport enables individuals to participate safely and with peace of mind in activities that involve interactions with other people, including travel, attractions, conferences/meetings, concerts, sports, school and more,” according to California health officials.

California Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón says the state doesn’t have plans to create vaccination passports, but will follow the federal government’s lead.

In Chicago, large events may come back this summer, but with a catch. 

You’ll likely need proof of vaccination to attend. The city’s public health commissioner is calling it the “Vax Pass.” It’s expected to launch soon in order to encourage residents to get the vaccine, especially younger people. 

“We’re not going to bribe Chicagoans to get vaccinated, but we’re going to do everything we can to build the confidence, to build the convenience, and then to make this fun,” said Chicago Public Health Commissioner Alison Arwady.  

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But some lawmakers are stepping in to make sure people are not denied services due to their vaccination status.

In Indiana, state leaders worked on a bill that includes a vaccine passport ban. It passed by a wide margin, just as many state health departments saw an uptick in no-shows for COVID-19 shots.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order saying no government entity can issue a vaccine passport, and businesses in that state can’t require it.

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning the passes in the state.

“As I have said all along, these vaccines are always voluntary and never forced,” said Abbott.

That means government agencies — or any organization receiving state funds — cannot require people to prove their COVID-19 vaccination status in the Lone Star State.

It’s a move some residents support, and others question.

“Like that’s just personal information, you know? So it’s something that you just like to keep to yourself. Most people, anyways,” said Texas resident Stephanie Almaraz.

“I think, ultimately, for public health, it would be really beneficial to have a vaccine passport. But we need more evidence to show that the vaccine is universally effective,” said Jessica Guzeman, another Texas resident.

The Biden administration said this week it does not intend to issue a vaccine passport mandate and it will not build a national vaccination app — leaving it to the private sector to create mobile digital passports. 

Without a national standard for vaccine passports, people will likely be dealing with competing technologies and juggling various digital documents on hand, depending on where they go.  

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