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Government/Politics

Gov. Abbott Bans State Agencies, State-Funded Groups From Requiring Proof Of COVID-19 Vaccination

Gov. Greg Abbott laid out his legislative priorities on Monday. In an interview with The Texas Tribune on Tuesday, he signaled that he is open to reconsidering his executive powers during state emergencies.
Gov. Greg Abbott laid out his legislative priorities on Monday. In an interview with The Texas Tribune on Tuesday, he signaled that he is open to reconsidering his executive powers during state emergencies.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday said he banned state agencies, political subdivisions or organizations receiving public funds from creating "vaccine passports" or otherwise requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccine in order to receive services.

This comes as vaccine credentials, often referred to as vaccine passports, are being developed around the world as a way to quickly prove someone's vaccination status, particularly with private companies. It has become a fierce debate, with Republicans largely opposing the move, saying it is an infringement on individual freedoms and privacy. A handful of GOP-backed bills have been introduced in states across the U.S. aiming to restrict entities from requiring vaccines for their employees, including in Texas. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also prohibited state agencies from using vaccine passports but went a step further and said no business can require their customers to display one.

Businesses can require their employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine, according to guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"Texans are returning to normal life as more people get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. But as I've said all along, these vaccines are always voluntary and never forced," Abbott said in a video, announcing the executive order. "Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal health information just to go about their daily lives. That is why I have issued an Executive Order that prohibits government-mandated vaccine passports in Texas. We will continue to vaccinate more Texans and protect public health — and we will do so without treading on Texans' personal freedoms."

Most plans for vaccine passports take the form of a smartphone app, although some are in a paper form and are seen as a way to ensure COVID-19 free spaces for a variety of situations, including concerts, restaurants and sporting events. New York became the first state to unveil this measure in its Excelsior Pass — which can be used to quickly show proof of a vaccination or a negative test. Israel, which has fully vaccinated over half of its population, also introduced a vaccine passport for anyone in the country. The measure is being developed and debated for use in the European Union.

Abbott's order is consistent with his messaging on vaccinations. Although he was vaccinated live on TV, he also stresses that vaccines are "always voluntary" in his public statements.

Republicans and especially white Republicans have emerged as the most consistently hesitant group in Texas and in the country to getting COVID-19 vaccines. Most Republicans in the state say they are hesitant to get a COVID-19 shot, while 41% say they would refuse one altogether, according to the February University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

This story is developing. Check back for more details.

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