Kemp: Public agencies can’t require COVID-19 vaccine proof

Georgia Tech employee Adam Jackson receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination at the Vaccination Site on the campus of Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
Georgia Tech employee Adam Jackson receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination at the Vaccination Site on the campus of Georgia Tech in Atlanta. (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp says public agencies in Georgia can’t require people to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, a step his administration says ultimately means no agency can require anyone to receive the vaccination.

The Republican governor issued an executive order Tuesday banning vaccine passports and saying state immunization records can’t be shared with any private company aiming to create such a record.

“While I continue to urge all Georgians to get vaccinated so we continue our momentum in putting the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview, vaccination is a personal decision between each citizen and a medical professional — not state government,” Kemp said in a statement.

Georgia has the eighth-lowest rate among states for COVID-19 vaccinations among people 12 and older, according to data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kemp is running for reelection in 2022 and has been taking steps to shore up support among Republican voters still restive over claims that Kemp didn’t do enough to overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia. A number of Republican-led states have moved to ban vaccine passports, even though they are not in widespread use in the U.S. Opposition may be driven in part by reluctance among many Republican voters to get inoculated against COVID-19.

Last week, Kemp sent a letter to the state Board of Education urging members to ban public schools from certain teachings about race.

Tuesday’s order also says no vaccine passport can be required for entry into Georgia, a move that could block any airline or bus line from using them. Kemp’s order otherwise doesn’t apply to private businesses that could request proof of vaccine for entry or require employees to get shots.

Spokesperson Cody Hall said the order does not ban prisons, mental hospitals or juvenile justice facilities from asking whether inmates or patients had been vaccinated, but said any state service can’t be conditional upon vaccination status.

Hall said the order does not ban the state Department of Public Health from including an entry for COVID-19 vaccines on the standard immunization record that pediatricians provide to parents enrolling children in child care or school. The record does not now include such an entry.

The University System of Georgia had already announced it wouldn’t mandate vaccines for students or staff.

Employers can still inquire if a worker is vaccinated. Kemp said public employers can make different rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, but must take the worker’s word for whether they have received shots protecting against COVID-19, and can’t require any proof.

Unlike many of Kemp’s other orders related to COVID-19, it’s permanent and doesn’t expire when the health care state of emergency that provides sweeping powers to Kemp runs out.