As promised, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has issued an executive order banning any Florida government agency from issuing a so-called "vaccine passport," and banning any Florida business from requiring customers to display such a passport before entering.
The order begins by noting that the State of Florida is working aggressively to ensure that a COVID-19 vaccine is available for every Floridian, but also states, "many Floridians have not yet had the opportunity to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination, some have infection-acquired immunity, and others may be unable to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination due to health, religious, or other reasons[.]" Additionally, the order states, "Florida seeks to ensure every Floridian who desires a COVID-19 vaccine can obtain one, but such vaccines will not be mandated... no COVID-19 vaccine is required by law."
Therefore, in order to protect "patient privacy" and "the "fundamental rights and privacies of Floridians and the free flow of commerce within the state," DeSantis' order stated that, "No Florida government entity... shall be permitted to issue vaccine passports, vaccine passes, or other standardized documentation for the purpose of certifying an individual's COVID-19 vaccination status to a third party, or otherwise publish or share any individual's COVID-19 vacination record." Additionally, according to the order, "Businesses in Florida are prohibited from requiring patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-transmission recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the business."
As vaccination proceeds across the country and businesses begin to reopen to pre-pandemic levels, so-called "vaccine passports" have become a hot-button issue. Many have advocated for the use of such passports, particularly as a requirement before people would be allowed to re-enter things like large sporting venues. Additionally, the airline industry has openly mused about requiring such a passport before passengers will be allowed to fly, and the industry's largest trade association has developed a mobile app that will facilitate that requirement.
Passport advocates believe that such a system will allow businesses to reopen to full capacity (and without mask mandates) sooner and safer. However, privacy advocates and skeptics of the COVID-19 vaccine worry that requiring individuals to display private medical information before patronizing a business will set a dangerous precedent and possibly violate existing federal laws. Additionally, business property rights advocates argue that private businesses should be able to determine whether they want to admit unvaccinated customers or not. The fight is expected to play out over the next several months.
The Biden administration has, thus far, indicated that it will not support efforts to require citizens to display a vaccine passport by law; however, it is working to develop such a passport mobile app that would facilitate private businesses' efforts to require such a passport.
In announcing the executive order on Twitter, DeSantis seemed to acknowledge that questions remain about the legality of a permanent executive order that would prohibit Florida businesses from requiring proof of vaccination before entry, and thus promised that he was working with the Florida legislature on legislation that would make the protections in his executive order "permanent."