Northam: Vaccine passports are ‘on the table’ but no current plans to require them in Virginia

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Gov. Ralph Northam is not ruling out COVID-19 vaccine passports as a condition for entry into certain places but, on Monday, he said his administration has no current plans to use them in Virginia.

“It’s an option that’s on the table but we haven’t chosen to take that option yet,” Northam told 8News on Monday. “I am pleased with the direction the vaccine program is going in Virginia and I’m confident that, in time, we will reach herd immunity.”

While vaccine passports may be required for international travelers entering the U.S. in the future, CDC officials have said they don’t support a government requirement to carry vaccine credentials domestically, a federal database or a nationwide mandate. However, President Joe Biden’s Adminstration is collaborating with the private sector to develop standards around certifications.

Meanwhile, states are split on the role of vaccine passports.

As an alternative to paper cards, New York has introduced an app with personalized bar codes, which will allow people to prove their immunization status before entering certain social activities.

A number of Republican states have taken the opposite stance, arguing that these credentials fly in the face of individual liberty and patient privacy.

Governors in Texas, Florida, Montana and Arizona have already signed executive orders to limit the use of vaccine passports. The orders generally aim to prohibit tax-payer funded entities from requiring them and some target private businesses as well.

Still, questions about the enforcement power of those orders are leading some state legislatures to pursue more permanent bans.

In the Virginia General Assembly, a bill to ban discrimination based on COVID-19 vaccination status was rejected by a House committee earlier this year. Six Republicans sided with Democrats to kill the legislation. The final vote was 18-3.

“No one is going to discriminate against you if you don’t get this vaccine,” said Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax County). “Most of the time Republicans don’t want us to put words in the code that aren’t necessary.”

“This bill is terrible,” said Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria).

Republican Del. Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun), who sponsored the bill, said it would’ve prohibited a person from being punished for refusing to get a shot with regard to education, employment, insurance, state identification and in “numerous other contexts.” It also would’ve prevented the state from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I’m concerned that what we are moving toward is a government that wants to treat people who haven’t been vaccinated as second class citizens,” LaRock said. “That does not sound like the America that I know where your individual freedom and your right to make your own decisions is respected.” 

During the committee meeting, LaRock was accused of playing into hysteria and disinformation surrounding the emergency use authorization process.

LaRock said, while he isn’t planning to get vaccinated, he is not encouraging others to avoid it. He said the role of government should be to provide accurate information and to make the shots as accessible as possible.

“I think people should hesitate, pause, look at the pros and cons and make an informed decision,” LaRock said.

In an interview last week, Virginia’s Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula acknowledged concerns about individual freedom but added that vaccine passports may allow the state to reopen more quickly. He also reinforced that the shots are safe and effective.

“If our ability to move forward as society, to open back up business, to open back up schools is contingent on this then I think we find every way we can to incentive it and potentially even get to a point where we require it but I think we’re a long way from that,” Avula said.

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