NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday joined fellow Republicans nationwide to advocate against COVID-19 vaccine passports, which are being developed in some areas to let inoculated people travel, shop and dine more freely.
Currently, vaccine passports — which show whether someone has been vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19 — exist only in New York via a government-sponsored smartphone app produced in partnership with a private company. But Republicans nationwide are pursuing proposals to ban their use as a restriction against people’s activities.
“I think vaccine passports are a bad idea. I do not believe that government should impose vaccine requirements or mandates in any way,” Lee told reporters, while urging the GOP-controlled General Assembly to advance legislation this year to prohibit such requirements.
Lee added that he hoped private businesses also don’t impose vaccine passport mandates, but said that he doesn’t believe “that government should impose itself in the private affairs of business practices.” The version of the legislation advanced by a House subcommittee Tuesday does not preclude businesses from requiring a vaccine passport on their own.
Backers of vaccine passports argue that they are similar to other safety measures for schools and overseas travel that require proof of immunization against various diseases.
Vaccine passports are in use in Israel and under development in parts of Europe, since they are seen as a way to safely help rebuild the pandemic-devastated travel industry.
Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has said he considered the passports a project for the private sector, not the government.
Lawmakers in Arkansas and Pennsylvania are considering similar measures. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed an executive order declaring that no governmental entity may issue a vaccine passport, and businesses in that state can’t require them.
Separately, nearly 24% of Tennessee residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.