Fearing access limitations for people choosing to not get vaccinated, a Northeast Kingdom lawmaker is seeking to prevent any effort to require a “COVID-19 passport.”
Rep. Vicki Strong, R-Orleans-Caledonia, of Albany, is the lead sponsor of H.452, which “proposes to prohibit the use of COVID-19 passports, which require individuals to disclose their vaccination status, by businesses and to attend public events.”
Rep. Strong’s bill is co-sponsored by fellow NEK legislators Rep. Lynn Batchelor, R-Orleans 1 and Rep. Mark Higley, R-Orleans-Lamoille, and Rep. Robert LaClair, R-Barre Town.
The bill was introduced to the House on April 30 and was directed to the House Committee on Health Care, where Rep. William J. Lippert Jr., D-Chittenden-4-2 serves as chair. Rep. Woodman Page, a Republican from Newport, is a member of the committee.
The bill has gone nowhere since it landed in committee, and as the session winds down, Rep. Strong said she fears the bill is destined to be “stuck on the wall.”
“Other than from public support it has lost any momentum,” she said. “There’s no desire to take it up at this point.”
The public support to which Rep. Strong referred, she said, is from people who fear they’ll be limited by their choice to not get vaccinated.
“They are concerned about our freedoms and the possibility that a vaccine passport could be used to limit them to access activities, events, graduations, it’s a long list,” said Rep. Strong. “In my mind, it’s unconstitutional to limit those accesses. These vaccines cannot be mandated and therefore we should not be limited to where we can go and what we can do and where we can travel.”
People choose to not get vaccinated for valid reasons, she said, such as their health or religion or concerns about the risk of short and long-term side effects.
Rep. Strong said there is no evidence in the state that government could take steps requiring vaccination documentation, but she said establishing a law to keep it from happening is a good preventative measure.
Dr. Michael Rousse, Chief Medical Officer at NVRH, said establishing such a law would be taking public health in the wrong direction.
He said the word “passport” is a trigger word meant to stoke fears of lost liberties, but proof of vaccination “is very helpful from a public health point of view.”
Banning a means of restricting the spread of the virus does not advance the goal of eradicating it, he said.
“It’s kind of like an anti-public health measure, and I don’t see a need for an anti-public health measure,” said Dr. Rousse. “People who are vaccinated feel safe and reassured, and if we’re able to be with other people who are vaccinated we’re safe. It’s the other people who are putting other unvaccinated people at risk and that is really the tragedy of it.”
He said last week there was a death attributed to COVID in the region. “It was unnecessary; it was related to not getting vaccinated,” he said.
The vaccination rate in the state is high in Vermont, reaching over 70 percent as of Thursday, and that takes into account the population of children under 12 who are unable to get the vaccine, Dr. Rousse said. In Caledonia and Orleans counties, the vaccination rate is about identical at just under 61 percent.
Dr. Rousse said many people who are opposed to getting a vaccine may feel they’re taking a stand for their rights, but there’s a community need for public health people need to accept.
“I see it as along the lines of people choosing to not wear a motorcycle helmet or not wearing a seat belt,” he said, “but this is just something where society has to help make the decision for the greater good.”