Texas Bans Vaccine Passports and Penalizes Businesses That Require Customers To Be Vaccinated

Toby Hazlewood

Governor Abbott prioritizes the freedoms of some at the expense of others (again)

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Covid Vaccine Mask and StickerPhoto by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

On June 7th Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a law that will penalize Texas businesses that require customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Such businesses will be denied state contracts and could lose their licenses or operating permits under the new legislation.

His stated intentions are clear, and accompanied a video posted on Twitter:

"Texas is open 100%. Texans should have the freedom to go where they want without any limits, restrictions, or requirements." - Governor Greg Abbott

His message is impassioned, and is clearly intended to appeal to those who demand the right to do whatever they want without restriction.

It raises a question though - why are the rights of those particular Texans more valuable and worth protecting more than the rights and freedoms of those who are vulnerable to COVID-19, who cannot get vaccinated or who need the certainty and peace of mind that vaccine passports would help to assure?

Source: Twitter

Protecting the freedoms of all

Texas has been uncharacteristically slow to implement a ban on Covid passports. Gov. Abbott was quick to remove mask mandates in the state and in May 2021 went as far as discouraging authorities from trying to enforce masks with threats of a $1,000 fine.

After living under restrictions and stay-at-home orders for much of the last 12 months, many Americans are looking forward to getting back to normal. The return of legitimate freedoms without fear of illness or increasing the odds of a further wave of Covid-19 seems to rest on a couple of things - getting the vaccine rolled-out and adopting precautionary measures to beat the virus into submission without causing further death and widespread illness.

The use of masks and regular hand-washing are two such measures. A further tool that many nations and various states are exploring are vaccine passports as a means of tracking those who've received the protection of their full vaccine dose and who present less of a risk of transmission of the virus to others.

It's surprising then that while New York has pressed on with the rollout of its Excelsior pass (with over 1 million downloads since the voluntary program began) states like Alabama and Florida, and now Texas have gone as far as to ban the implementation of Covid Passports by Executive Order.

Texas has been behind the curve this time, but Gov. Abbott now seems intent on making up for lost time - bringing in a ban that not only rules out the use of vaccine passports, but actually threatens punishment for businesses that insist upon them.

Is this wise? What is the cost to residents of these states who won't have an easy means of proving their immunity to the virus? Doesn't it deny them the freedom to actually use such a passport if they want to?

COVID-19 won't be beaten by vaccines alone

The US rollout of the Covid vaccination is going well by most measures - 303 million doses have been administered so far. But progress is now slowing and 1 in 4 Americans saying they don't intend to get vaccinated which is a potential barrier to completing the rollout and reaching herd immunity.

Different states (both Democrat and Republican-ruled) are exploring innovative ways to encourage their residents to get vaccinated, including lotteries (in Ohio, California and Maryland) and free beer or pot (in New Jersey and Michigan respectively) but there's a further problem to be overcome:

How can we go about preventing the spread of the virus to those who haven't been vaccinated or those who are most vulnerable to it? One answer seems to be vaccine passports.

These are personalized records that may use an app on our smartphones to document and provide proof for those who've had their shots. Such passports could then be used to reduce their risk of exposure to large groups including those more likely to be carrying the virus.

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Covid Vaccine StickerPhoto by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

A violation of freedoms?

Articles in renowned medical and scientific journals have considered concerns over whether vaccine passports violate personal freedoms and confidentiality alongside the benefits of such schemes. In his comments against the use of vaccine passports in Florida, Ron DeSantis specifically called out concerns over an overreach of authority by the federal government.

The Excelsior Pass being rolled out in New York has tackled this issue by being developed so that it contains no biometric data for privacy reasons. Holders of the passport have to produce their personal ID to use it for accessing travel and restricted events.

Whether citizens choose to believe that vaccine passports erode their freedoms or not comes down to individual choice. Those who are resistant to signing up for them are likely the same people who are against being vaccinated too.

The ban on vaccine passports is a bold and characteristic move from Gov. Abbott. It's clear though that his actions are shaped around pleasing and protecting the freedoms of those who are resistant to masks and vaccines generally. It neglects to consider the freedoms of those who feel vulnerable or in need of protective and preventative measures.

The impacts of the move will no doubt emerge in time.

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