Florida governor to forbid ‘vaccine passports’

Vaccination credentials are being developed at the direction of the White House. A "Vax Pass" could be used in the workplace, in school, or for travel. Florida's leader says there's no way it will be used here.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that he would issue an executive order forbidding local governments and businesses from requiring so-called “vaccine passports” to show proof that customers have been inoculated against the coronavirus.

He made the announcement on a day when more Floridians would become eligible for vaccination and during a ceremony he convened at the state Capitol to sign into law a bill approved by the Legislature on Friday that would bar COVID-related lawsuits against businesses that have made good-faith efforts to comply with guidelines meant to stop the spread of the virus.

While the governor has previously spoken out against “vaccine passports,” he said he would take the additional step of forbidding businesses from refusing to serve people who can’t prove they have been vaccinated.

“It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply participate in normal society,” the governor said.

DeSantis, who was joined during his press conference by House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson, called on the Republican-led Legislature to send him a measure for his signature that would enshrine the matter into law, but he did not lay out specifics.

The governor has rejected mask mandates and has used his executive authority to preempt local governments from enforcing such measures. He has done so to reopen the state's economy after much of it was shuttered a year ago to help control the coronavirus outbreak.

Pushback from Florida’s governor comes as President Joe Biden’s administration pushes for “vaccine passports.”

“Our role is to help ensure that any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy,” Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus coordinator, said at a March 12 briefing.

The “vaccine passports” are expected to be free, be available through smartphone apps, be printable and have a scannable code that’s similar to an airline boarding pass.

Dr. Mobeen H. Rathore, an infectious disease expert at UF Health, sees a benefit to vaccinations but hesitates on the “vaccine passports.”

“It has to be an equitable availability of the vaccine before we can say that you will have to show me that you are vaccinated to do XYZ activity,” Rathore said. “At this point in time, I think it may be a little bit premature to be talking about that because, you know, you ask me for a vaccine passport, and I can’t get the vaccine, then I think that’s not fair. I think that’s not the right thing to do.”

More Floridians became eligible for vaccinations on Monday when the state lowered the minimum age to 40. The requirement will be lowered again on April 5 to include anyone age 18 and over, DeSantis announced last week.

As of Monday, 5.67 million people in Florida have gotten at least one dose of the three COVID-19 vaccines, according to health statistics provided by the Florida Department of Health.

State records show 2.53 million people have received the first dose of either the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. And 3.14 million people have completed the vaccine series or received the single-shot dose of Johnson & Johnson

As of Monday, the state of Florida was reporting 2,047,379 coronavirus cases and 33,891 deaths.

DeSantis said allowing governments and businesses to require proof of vaccinations would be “an unprecedented expansion” of public and private power. But the governor seemed to differentiate between COVID-19 vaccinations and requiring parents to show proof to schools that their children have been protected against other infectious diseases such as the measles, which he called “more problematic.”

About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.