The Lead

There are no plans for them, but Pa. Senate panel approves bill banning vaccine ‘passports’

By: - May 24, 2021 2:07 pm

A vial of COVID-19 vaccine (Commonwealth Media Services screen capture)

Pennsylvania has no plans to implement vaccine “passports,” but Senate lawmakers say they’re taking steps to ensure state and local governments cannot require proof of a COVID-19 vaccine to access services.

“It is a simple concept. It would ban the state, county, local municipality, or school district from requiring a proof of the COVID-19 vaccine to enter a facility within its territory,” Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, said Monday as the Senate Health and Human Services Committee took up legislation she’s sponsoring that would impose just such a ban. “The state could not require proof to enter a restaurant or a barbershop.”

The committee voted 6-4 to send the bill to the full Senate for consideration, with Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, as the most vocal opponent. 

Urging committee members to vote no, Haywood noted that Pennsylvania students are already required to receive certain vaccines to attend school.

Vaccine passports currently exist in New York; they prove an individual received their dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Kevin Levy, an attorney at the Philadelphia firm of Saul Ewing, said he thinks it’s unlikely that the bill will become law. However, he added that there is potential for Republican and Democratic lawmakers to reach a “happy medium” when addressing future pandemic response.

“It’s certainly one of the most potentially visible aspects of the continuing effects of COVID-19 restrictions, especially once vaccinated people aren’t required to wear masks,” Levy said. “What does a return to normal look like?”

Businesses still can require masking and ask patrons to provide proof of vaccination upon entering, Levy said. He added that he wouldn’t be surprised if Philadelphia “inches” toward a “passport” model or the equivalent for high-capacity venues.

Though schools require kids to be vaccinated for some diseases, the COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for emergency distribution. Vaccines for measles, mumps, and polio have been formally approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

As written, the bill would prohibit any government agency at the state or local level from requiring a COVID-19 vaccine even after formal approval, Levy said — adding that Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, would most likely veto it.

“There is a little bit of a drafting error,” Levy said. “I don’t think it was an error frankly, but it’s doing a little bit more than the concerns provided for.”

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