Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

• Rep. Joyce comes out against vaccine “passport,”

Believes in shot but not having to prove it

- By Daniel Moore

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA