Gov. Kemp signs executive order against state requiring vaccine passports

ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order Tuesday that prohibits the state from requiring COVID-19 vaccination passports.

“Vaccine passports,” or vaccine certificates, are documents that show you were vaccinated against COVID-19 or recently tested negative for the virus.

The order says that no vaccine passports will be required for entry into Georgia and that state employees won’t be require to provide vaccination proof to their state employers.

“Today’s executive order makes clear that vaccine passports will not be utilized in state government,” Kemp said. “While I continue to urge all Georgians to get vaccinated so we continue our momentum in putting the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview, vaccination is a personal decision between each citizen and a medical professional - not state government. This order also clearly states that data held by the Georgia Department of Public Health and their immunization system will not be used by any public or private entity for a vaccine passport program.”

Kemp originally stated in April that he would not support any kind of state-mandated vaccine passport.

On Tuesday, Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr confirmed with the state that the order would not apply to any business renting or leasing state property. For example, a group holding an event at the Georgia World Congress Center could require attendees to be vaccinated and control entry.

Cody Hall, a spokesman for the Governor’s office added that state offices who have employees working in close contact with high-risk patients would also count as an exception.

“Previous to January 2020, they had mandated that workers have vaccinations, so this order does not apply to the employment side of those agencies,” Hall told Carr.

Supporters say the passports could make re-openings faster and easier. Proof of vaccination or a negative test could be a way for businesses and schools to reassure customers, students and parents that steps are being taken to limit transmission of the virus.

Critics say they have privacy and security concerns over how people’s personal information will be stored and fairness.

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There has been a growing push by governors across the country against programs for the so-called COVID-19 vaccine passports.

Governors in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Montana, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming have signed similar orders. They’re also in line with what the White House has said it will not mandate at a federal level.

Vaccine passports or vaccine certificates are already in use in New York. Countries like China, Japan and Israel have either unveiled similar digital passes or plan to do so.

Carr asked Hall about the implication for school systems, which already require other vaccines. He said the state Department of Public Health had not yet updated its mandatory vaccines to include one for COVID. While some experts expect emergency use authorization for a vaccine designed for younger children by the end of the year, Hall said a change in school policy may come beyond FDA EUAs.

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“A lot of those vaccines that are mandatory have been around for years and years, " Hall said. “People grown accustomed to it. They’ve grown comfortable with either their child or someone in their family getting that vaccine, so it’s going to take a little bit I feel like, as we feel like from the state perspective, for Georgians to become more and more comfortable with children having access the vaccine and being able to get it.”

Hall added that the Governor and his family have been vaccinated and continue to be proponents for its safety and effectiveness.

“Our messaging has been consistent,” Hall said.” Everyone should get their vaccine, but it should also not be a mandatory thing from the state government.

For some Georgians we spoke with Tuesday, the idea of vaccination disclosures and mandates remains a gray area.

“I look at you, I’m hoping you’re vaccinated,” Kent Tolleson told Carr.. “I look at myself, I’m vaccinated, so I’m doing the right thing. Is it infringing on rights? It’s a fine line. That’s a tough decision for him (Kemp) to have to make.”

“We all have to work together,” said Atlanta resident, Olbab Rojas. “That’s it. We cannot disagree with each other. If we all want a better solution we have to work together.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.