For The Record

Georgia senate GOP approves ban on COVID-19 vaccine ‘passports’

By: - March 4, 2022 5:01 pm

On March 4, Georgia Republican senators advanced a bill to block state and local governments from requiring people to present “passports” showing COVID-19 vaccinations in order to access public facilities. Javier Zayas photography

Georgia Republican lawmakers appear primed to have restrictions in place this summer to block “intrusive” government COVID-19 vaccine mandates from returning in the next year or so.

In Georgia and all across the country, government-imposed mandates are being rolled back after public health guidelines were relaxed following a significant reduction in cases in much of the country.

If local officials in Georgia want to follow future recommendations of public health officials to require masks in schools and other public buildings or to require proof of vaccination to enter government buildings, they will likely be in violation of state law. 

The Georgia House is now set to take up Senate Bill 345, which would forbid local and state governments through June 2023 from requiring proof of vaccination to use services and access government facilities, including public college campuses. The bill cleared the Senate Friday with 31-19 vote along party lines. 

Democratic Sen. Michelle Au, a Johns Creek physician, called the measure dangerous. The bill would block the Department of Public Health’s ability to enforce rules, such as COVID-19 vaccinations requirements for students to attend school, Au said.

Another Senate bill backed by Republicans would allow parents to opt their children out of masks mandates for k-12 public schools over the next five years.

“We’ve seen that corrosive messaging around public health and vaccines can do a tremendous amount of harm,” Au said during Friday’s debate. “And we’ve seen that doubt, cynicism, misinformation, and the undermining of confidence in public institutions has caused cracks in the foundational elements keeping our society safe.”

The Atlanta and Decatur school districts, along with Fulton County government, have already begun removing mask requirements as cases have declined significantly in many communities.

Government rollbacks are also being implemented in other areas of the country, including New York City, where the mayor lifted this week the requirement for vaccine passports to enter restaurants, bars, and other venues.

In spring of last year, as vaccination distribution picked up speed, so did the debate over whether the federal and state governments needed to require individuals to have “vaccine passports” showing proof of vaccination.

The privacy concerns spurred the Georgia Legislature last year to pass a measure that allows Georgians to opt out of the statewide and federal vaccine databases and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has expressed opposition to government-mandated COVID-19 passports and forcing public school students to wear masks.

Vaccination rates remain divided across urban and rural areas, political lines, and demographics. This week, the CDC released a report in which it showed a widening gap from April through January between the vaccination rates of metropolitan and rural residents and Democrats and Republicans 

Sen. Greg Dolezal, a Republican from Cumming, accused Democrats of hypocrisy by blaming misinformation spread about vaccination. Polls showed the majority of Democrats didn’t trust the vaccine development during Donald Trump’s time as president and remarks at the time from now-President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris also questioned their effectiveness.

“This doubt and corrosive messaging went so deep into the ether when it was politically expedient to undermine the vaccine,” Dolezal said.

“Mandates have not worked,” he added. “The vaccine is a decision between individuals and their doctor.”

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.