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Vaccine Passports? Not in Texas

As we cross the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 stay at home orders and economic shut down, things are slowly returning to normal, or at the very least some sort of new normal. As of the time of this article, approximately half of U.S. adults have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and about 25% are fully vaccinated. More and more people are returning to work, going to restaurants, shopping in retail stores, and even air travel is beginning to pick back up.

As countries and economies continue to open, conversation has grown around so-called “vaccine passports.”

Essentially, the idea behind a vaccine passport is to allow those who have either been vaccinated or who have recently recovered from COVID-19 to move freely since they no longer pose a risk of spreading or contracting the disease. A vaccine passport is not a literal passport in a traditional sense. It can take the form of an app on your phone which can be scanned and proves that you are no longer at risk for contracting or spreading the Coronavirus. Vaccine passports are already in use in Israel and are in development in some parts of Europe.

Proponents of these “passports” say that once a person is no longer a risk to themselves and others, why shouldn’t they be able to go back to life as normal? Why should they be restricted in any way from shopping, dining, traveling, or anything else they would have done prior to the pandemic? On the other hand, many fear that this type of vaccine-passport system would essentially create two classes of citizens. Those who have been vaccinated could go about their normal lives, while those who have not been vaccinated would still be subject to numerous restrictions.

Earlier this month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott addressed the issue through Executive Order No. GA-35.

Abbott prohibited state agencies or political subdivisions in Texas from creating any type of “vaccine passport” requirement. Under Abbott’s order, any organization receiving public funds is prohibited from requiring consumers to provide documentation of vaccine status in order to receive any service or enter any place. In other words, any business, local government, or other entity who receives government funding, cannot require its customers or citizens to show proof of vaccination as a prerequisite to obtaining goods or services. As Governor Abbott put it, “[g]overnment should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private 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.”

The governor has reiterated that the goal is to continue to protect public health by vaccinating more Texans, but that Texas will do so without treading on Texans’ personal freedoms.

As part of Governor Abbott’s April 5th executive order; no governmental entity can compel any individual to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, nor can any state agency or political subdivision adopt or enforce orders requiring citizens to provide proof of vaccination in order to receive services or enter into a facility. Many other states are following suit with similar orders, and in fact some state legislatures are considering legislation to the same effect. While it will be interesting to see how the concept of vaccine passports develops, it appears that no such restrictions will be coming to the Lone Star State.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our commercial and business litigation practice can be found here.

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