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Greg Abbott's Ban Raises The Temperature In Debate Over Vaccine Passports

a hand holds a vial of COVID-19 vaccine
Gabriel C. Pérez

From Texas Standard:

Institutions and government entities that receive Texas tax dollars are now barred from forcing anyone to prove they've been vaccinated against COVID-19. Gov. Greg Abbott issued his ban Tuesday, officially stepping into the national debate over so-called vaccine passports. Florida's governor made a similar move last week.

Mark Hall is a professor of law and public health at Wake Forest School of Medicine who has been writing about the vaccine passport debate from a public health perspective for the New England Journal of Medicine. Hall told Texas Standard that the lack of access to shots, especially for racial minorities and economically disadvantaged people should give policymakers pause when it comes to requiring proof of vaccination. And doctors don't yet know how long the current vaccines last or how much protection they provide. Those who object to vaccines also oppose verification requirements.

"If you gear access or privileges to vaccinated status, it would be felt as a disadvantage or a penalty to people who oppose vaccinations for a conscientious reason," Hall said.

Verification of vaccine status hasn't yet been resolved by entities that are advocating or developing vaccine passports.

Hall says the issues he identifies can be addressed and would make it possible to roll out a vaccine status verification system that could accomplish the goals many have – providing a way to give access to places and activities for people who are less likely to spread or contract COVID-19.

"The science part of it is increasingly encouraging," Hall said. "The accuracy of the certification – having a credential that can't be faked – is a technological problem that can be solved."

Hall says the issue is a philosophical one for some who don't support vaccine passports. He thinks the existence of such passports doesn't constitute a mandate.

"A lot of these activities are discretionary, and a lot of people, having gotten vaccinated, would like to go out and enjoy life more fully," Hall said.

Hall says states that want to implement or control vaccine certification requirements will need to tread carefully, because the issue has become a battle in the culture war. Some conservatives see verification as an intrusive restriction on freedom of movement and access, while advocates believe verification could allow more people to return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle, while staying healthy.

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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