Abbott Bans COVID-19 Vaccine Passports
By Libby Cohen
Reporting Texas TV
AUSTIN, Texas — While lawmakers argue across the country whether mandating the COVID-19 vaccine is constitutional, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order effectively banning vaccine passports last week.
If enacted, the passport would allow vaccinated people to do certain things like eat in a restaurant or go to a library. Abbott’s order withdraws public funds from any entity that enforces a COVID-19 vaccine passport.
Ultimately, the COVID-19 passport is just as polarizing as the virus itself.
Allison Stewart, a senior government major at the University of Texas at Austin, said vaccine passports would make her feel more comfortable attending class on campus.
“I wouldn’t want to go to class and not wear a mask next to someone who hasn’t been vaccinated,” Stewart said.
UT is in a group currently barred from making students show proof of vaccination by Abbott’s new order.
State Republicans are on board with Abbott’s order.
“We do support our governor and the Republican party is generally against anything that restricts the freedom of motion, as well as we oppose the national ID card and things like that, that would inhibit free travel and basically the sharing of private information,” said Andy Hogue, the press coordinator for the Travis County Republican Party.
Hogue said the order relies on the fact that the vaccine has only received emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration. But,
UT law professor Elizabeth Sepper said it is not illegal to ban an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) vaccine.
“No federal or state law prohibits private employers or entities from requiring a vaccine that has EUA approval,” Sepper said.
Additionally, Pfizer, one of three pharmaceutical companies approved for distributing vaccines in the U.S., announced last week that it has data to achieve full approval from the FDA.
Since there is nothing legally stopping the COVID-19 vaccine from becoming mandatory–and because there are other existing mandatory vaccines for other diseases–Sepper said a ban on COVID passports comes down to politics.
“So is there something special about COVID? Probably not. Probably, it’s all political ideology all the way down,” Sepper said.
While more than half of American adults have received at least a first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, GOP leaders in Texas said a vaccine mandate will not happen.
“I think if you think about freedom and individual liberty, the advantages also outweigh the disadvantages,” Hogue said.
“Yes, people die. Yes, people get sick. Yes, it’s a pandemic, but that doesn’t mean we need to put our life and our liberty on the altar of security,”
Students like Stewart see the passports as a way of organizing the mitigation of the virus to hopefully return life back to normal.
“I know this is hard because as Texans and as Americans, we value individual freedom and liberty so much but at this point, we have to come together as a collective and make sure we are all protecting one another,” Stewart said.
For more information about getting a vaccine, visit the Austin Public Health website.