• Rep. Joyce comes out against vaccine “passport,”
Believes in shot but not having to prove it
WASHINGTON — John Joyce insists he wants everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The second-term Republican congressman from Blair County, who spent more than 25 years as a dermatologist and often refers to his medical background on health care matters in Washington, believes the vaccine is the key to stamping out the pandemic. Mr. Joyce already received his jab and has repeatedly pressed, in letters and congressional hearings, Pennsylvania’s Democratic officials to speed up vaccine distribution.
But when it comes to the matter of federally mandated vaccine passports, which would be government-verified documents proving someone has received the vaccine, Mr. Joyce sees a tyrannical act.
This week, he introduced the Protecting Americans’ Safety, Security and Privacy Over Repressive Tyranny Act, or PASSPORT Act, which would prohibit federal funds from being used to develop, implement, support or endorse vaccine passports.
The bill would prevent taxpayer dollars from supporting any system under which an individual is required to provide documentation that shows vaccination status for that person to conduct an activity, including to travel or attend an event.
The text of the bill appears to go further than similar legislation introduced by Rep. Andy Biggs, RAriz., and co-sponsored by 18 of his House Republican colleagues earlier this month.
Mr. Biggs’ bill, the No Vaccine Passport Act, blocks federal agencies from issuing any standardized documentation that could be used to certify a U.S. citizen’s COVID-19 status to a third party, such as a restaurant or an airline. It also prohibits proof of COVID-19 vaccination from being a requirement for access to federal or congressional property and services.
Mr. Biggs’ bill effectively leaves open the possibility of government support or endorsement of privately issued vaccine passports, while Mr. Joyce’s bill blocks any endorsement or support.
In an interview, Mr. Joyce said he supports — despite his personal views that vaccines are effective — a person’s right to choose not to get the vaccine and worries about loss of personal freedoms those people would face as a result of not being vaccinated. He called governmentmandated passports a “dangerous and radical infringement on Americans’ fundamental rights.”
“As a doctor, I believe that every American who wants a vaccine
should be able to get one — but that choice must remain solely with the individual,” Mr. Joyce said.
He denied that he was placing a greater weight on individual freedoms than any public health benefits of mandated vaccine passports.
He said he recognized private businesses could still require to see proof of vaccination in the form of the vaccine cards issued at the vaccination site, and that citizens should abide by that.
“Let’s say that you’re hosting a concert and that’s your requirement, as a small business,” Mr. Joyce said. “I’ve received the vaccine, and I’d show you the card that shows that I had that. But none of that needs to be mandated, and none of that needs to occur using federal dollars.”
The Republican bills are unlikely to come up for a vote in the Democraticcontrolled House and Senate.
And the issue may be moot: Biden administration officials have repeatedly stated they do not plan to support a federalized vaccine passport program and would instead defer to the private sector to determine the need for any sort of documentation.
“The government is not now, nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters April 6. “There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”
The debate over how, or whether, to verify an individual has been vaccinated will be a central issue as economic restrictions begin to lift with rising vaccination rates.
But raising the specter of possible infringements on privacy and personal freedom — Mr. Biggs called vaccine passports “more Big Brother surveillance” — comes as public health officials struggle to combat vaccine skepticism.
A study published Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found the country would reach a “tipping point on vaccine enthusiasm” in the next two to four weeks, and vaccine supplies would begin to outstrip demand.
“Once this happens, efforts to encourage vaccination will become much harder, presenting a challenge to reaching the levels of herd immunity that are expected to be needed,” the report stated.
Health officials have estimated that the virus will be suppressed when 70% to 85% of the country is immune to the virus, through vaccination or previous infection.
Vaccine hesitancy could present a major hurdle to reach that mark, with Republicans particularly skeptical.
An NPR/ PBS NewsHour/ Marist poll last month found 47% of Donald Trump voters said they would turn down a vaccine, with 51% saying they would sign up for their dose or already had received it.
Among voters for President Joe Biden, just 10% said they wouldn’t get vaccinated, and 88% said they had received it or would sign up for their dose.
Mr. Joyce reiterated that he believes the vaccines are safe and effective, and he believes the country could get to 85% herd immunity.