Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday issued an executive order forbidding state and local governments from requiring so-called vaccine passports to access services or facilities.
“The residents of our state should not be required by the government to share their private medical information,” the Republican leader said in a statement. “While we strongly recommend all Arizonans get the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s not mandated in our state — and it never will be. Vaccination is up to each individual, not the government.”
The order comes two weeks after Ducey said his team was “digging into” the legality of vaccine passports, which generally are some kind of proof that a person has received the COVID-19 vaccine. Ducey’s directive primarily focuses on taxpayer-funded entities, and allows schools, health care facilities and businesses to keep collecting documentation of vaccination.
Here’s a closer look at what prompted Ducey’s order and what it means.
What does the order say?
The directive prohibits government policies or regulations requiring individuals to provide documentation of COVID-19 vaccination status to enter facilities, businesses or parks, or to receive services, permits or licenses.
To whom does it apply?
The order focuses on state agencies, counties, cities, towns and businesses contracted by the state to provide services to the public.
It does not apply to private businesses, health care institutions, schools and universities, child care centers and other entities permitted to collect vaccination documents under state law.
The order allows state and local health departments to require individuals to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination status “during a COVID-19 outbreak investigation.”
Who will enforce the ban?
The order does not outline any enforcement mechanisms.
How long will it remain in effect?
The ban is effective until the public health emergency declaration prompted by the pandemic is lifted.
Why was this issued now?
The timing of Ducey’s preemptive ban raised some eyebrows Monday, given that local governments haven’t exactly rushed to mandate vaccine passports.
The topic nonetheless has become a cultural flash point, particularly among Republicans. GOP governors in Florida, Texas and Montana had already imposed bans when Ducey issued his.
The move, which is sure to be noted nationally, represents another opportunity for Ducey to brandish his conservative bona fides.
Does this align with past positions?
Ducey’s catch phrase regarding vaccines is that he is “pro-vaccination, anti-measles.”
In past years, he has vowed to veto vaccine legislation that would jeopardize public health and said he would refuse to sign anything that didn’t promote vaccinations.
“I want to see fewer people being exposed to measles and the other things that we’ve spent decades, through research and development in the medical industry and health care, making our country a better place and safer place to live,” the governor told reporters in 2019.
He said vaccinations are “good for our kids and helpful for public health.”
Ducey has not stepped in to eliminate vaccine exemptions in schools, though, saying parents should “have a choice” and the state will “respect religious liberty.”
What do public health officials think?
The order has no major policy implications as of now, according to Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association.
The three COVID-19 vaccines offered in the U.S. are still under “emergency use authorization,” which means they don’t have final approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That’s why the U.S. military isn’t requiring the vaccine at the moment, Humble said.
“It’s a different standard than something that’s approved,” he said. “As of right now, I don’t think there’s anywhere that’s requiring (COVID-19) vaccination as a condition of getting any kind of service.”
What do legal experts think?
James Hodge Jr., an Arizona State University law professor who specializes in public health policy, said he expected the order to prompt legal challenges because the governor had left too much open to interpretation.
He pointed to the portion of the order that allows state and local health departments to require individuals to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination status “during a COVID-19 outbreak investigation” as an example.
“It really has no definitive meaning, because the governor does not expressly state or define what an ‘outbreak investigation’ might be,” Hodge said. “That exception here is going to be challenged. … Whether it holds up is a big question.”
Hodge also said it makes little sense to exempt “schools and universities from a generalized prohibition against vaccine passports when you’ve got so many other entities across the state that place people in similar, crowded environments,” such as correctional facilities.
“Drawing such distinctions lacks public health justification,” he said.