The Florida Department of Health (DOH) recently issued a notice stating that it intends to fine any business, government agency, or institution $5,000 that violates the state’s ban on COVID-19 vaccine passports. The rule will be effective starting Sept. 16. Healthcare providers are exempt from fines. Businesses that mandate vaccines for their employees are also exempt.
“Fines imposed are due and payable to the Department within 30 days of entry of the final order unless otherwise stated in the final order… This rule will be reviewed and repealed, modified, or renewed through the rulemaking process five years from the effective date,” the notice states.
The DOH ruling follows Governor Ron DeSantis’ signing of an executive order in April that banned vaccine passports in Florida. He stated that vaccination records are “private health information” that should not be shared by a mandate. He said that vaccine passports would harm patient privacy as well as infringe on personal liberties.
At a recent press conference, DeSantis once again justified his decision to ban vaccine passports. The governor said that his job is to ensure the protection of individual freedoms.
“One, I’m vaccinated. I am offended that someone would make me show something just to go to a restaurant or just to live life… My view is we got to protect people’s ability to live their lives. I don’t want a biomedical security state in which are constantly having to do this just to be able to live everyday life,” DeSantis said.
The new rule has been met with opposition. Democrat Nikki Fried, the current Agriculture Commissioner, criticized the fines. She is expected to challenge DeSantis for the post of governor next year.
“Governor DeSantis is retaliating against Floridians who are trying to protect themselves and their communities from COVID-19… This not only goes against common sense — it’s also an insult to the free market principles that he claims to champion,” Fried said in a statement.
The Delta variant has triggered an increase in infections in Florida. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over 15,000 people are presently hospitalized in the state due to COVID-19, which is up from 1,800 in June.
Floridians are split on the issue of vaccine passports. A recent survey by the National Restaurant Association showed that 32 percent of customers were less likely to visit a place that enforced a vaccine mandate. Thirty-three percent said that they were more likely to visit such a place; 35 percent did not care about the issue.
Twenty American states have banned vaccine passports, including Texas where the law came into effect this month. States like Oregon, Hawaii, and New York are endorsing such measures.
Vaccine passport concerns
Vaccine passports have been a controversial subject. One of the main points of contention is whether vaccinations guarantee the prevention of COVID-19 transmission. If they do not, then a vaccine passport would serve no purpose. It would only foster discrimination against the unvaccinated.
In an Aug. 6 weekly report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the agency looked at 469 cases of infections among Massachusetts residents. Fully vaccinated people accounted for a majority of cases.
“Among the 469 cases in Massachusetts residents, 346 (74%) occurred in persons who were fully vaccinated; of these, 301 (87%) were male, with a median age of 42 years. Vaccine products received by persons experiencing breakthrough infections were Pfizer-BioNTech (159; 46%), Moderna (131; 38%), and Janssen (56; 16%); among fully vaccinated persons in the Massachusetts general population, 56% had received Pfizer-BioNTech, 38% had received Moderna, and 7% had received Janssen vaccine products,” the CDC report stated.
A few other COVID-19 studies conducted in the United States, Singapore, and the United Kingdom looked at the presence of the virus in people’s noses. The studies showed that vaccinated individuals can carry as much virus in their noses as unvaccinated individuals. This means that vaccinated people can continue spreading the virus to non-infected people, making vaccine passports irrelevant.
In an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) article, the group warns that such medical passports could become a permanent reality.
“If a passport system makes it very easy to ask for and to provide proof of vaccination, it’s likely that such requests will become overused as people get asked for credentials at every turn… We don’t want to turn into a checkpoint society that outlasts the danger of COVID and that casually excludes people without credentials from facilities where vaccine mandates are not highly justified,” ACLU said.