Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order on Friday banning companies from requiring their customers to provide documents proving they have obtained a COVID-19 vaccine in order to access or benefit from it. Companies that do so will not be able to get grants or contracts from the state, he said.
DeSantis previously rejected the notion of so-called “vaccine passports” as conditions for travel or other activities.
“People have certain individual freedoms and freedoms to make decisions for themselves,” DeSantis said at a press conference on Monday, when he announced he would issue an executive order on vaccine passports soon.
He added, “I also wonder, it’s like, okay, you’re gonna do that and then what? Give all this information to a big company? Do you want the fox to guard the henhouse? I mean, give me a break.
The Governor’s Order in Council states that no government in Florida is authorized to issue vaccine passports or similar documents “for the purpose of certifying an individual’s COVID-19 vaccine status to a third party.” It also says companies that require customers to provide proof of vaccination or recovery from virus transmission would not be eligible for grants or contracts funded by state revenues.
The ordinance says that requiring vaccine passports “to participate in daily life – like attending a sporting event, going to a restaurant, or going to the movies – would create two classes of citizens based on vaccination.” DeSantis said the ordinance was necessary to “protect the fundamental rights and privileges of Floridians and the free flow of commerce within the state.”
The concept of requiring vaccines is not entirely new; certain vaccination records are needed for school and for certain jobs, for example. But the idea of such passports for the coronavirus has raised legal and ethical questions – especially from conservative policymakers.
In a follow-up tweet, DeSantis said he would lobby the Legislature to enshrine its vaccine passport policy in Florida law.
No bill enacting vaccine passport restrictions was tabled at Florida House or the Florida Senate on Friday. But on Thursday, Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson said his chamber would look into the matter. The 60-day legislative session ends on April 30.
Some Florida organizations have already made efforts to have clients show that they have been vaccinated. The South Beach Food and Wine Festival, for example, requires proof of vaccine or proof of a negative coronavirus test within three days before attending an event.
The Miami Heat said it is reserving a specific section of seats for fans who have been vaccinated. A spokesperson for the team declined to comment on the decree.
Some public health experts feared vaccine passports would prevent those who had difficulty accessing vaccines.
“We need to be extremely careful about fairness when we think of vaccination as a rite of passage to enter economic, social and other public interactions,” said Zinzi Bailey, social epidemiologist and board member of administration of the Florida Health Justice Project.
She noted that many people still have not been vaccinated and that certain groups, such as black and Hispanic Floridians, are even less likely to have been vaccinated.
Bailey said she doesn’t understand why the Governor’s Order in Council talks about individual freedom but prevents business owners from setting policies to make their employees and customers safer.
A spokeswoman for the Florida Chamber of Commerce declined to comment on the executive order, saying everyone in the office was out for Good Friday.
The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Judy Lisi, president and CEO of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, is hoping some Broadway shows may return to Tampa this fall. A passport could help fill theaters faster, she said, especially if professional actor unions decide not to let their members perform in venues without vaccination requirements.
“Our business will depend on a high level of vaccines,” she said. “Our audiences, we want to attract them and bring them safely to these theaters, and we have to reach a capacity of 100%.”
She called DeSantis’ position on passports “unfortunate”.
“I don’t think he [DeSantis] understands our profession or the sport business, ”she said. “We are talking about people sitting side by side. The vaccination passport could therefore be essential for these businesses to rebuild and restart successfully. “
Jay Cridlin, editor of the Tampa Bay Times, contributed to this report.