State Actions on COVID-19 Vaccine Verification

May 06, 2021 | Andy Baker-White

Pastel-Colors-USA-Map_1200x740.jpgIf you use social media, chances are you recently saw a friend or family member post a selfie with their COVID-19 vaccine card—or you posted one yourself. The card lists information about the type of COVID-19 the person received, as well as the date and location of the inoculation. The card should be kept in case the information is needed in the future.

With the number of COVID-19 vaccinations growing, some states are looking at their vaccination rates in determining when to loosen measures that mitigate the spread of COVID-19, such as venue capacity limits, business closure times, and masking requirements. As vaccinations allow businesses to reopen and customers to return, questions are arising about whether venues or services—especially those that bring people in close contact for long periods of times—such as retail stores, concert venues, entertainment venues, air travel, cruise ships, etc., can require patrons or customers to verify that they received a COVID-19 vaccine.

So far, state policy makers have had mixed views on the issue. While legislatures in several states advanced bills prohibiting businesses from establishing customer COVID-19 verification requirements and/or limiting state and local governments from providing COVID-19 vaccination documentation, other states are considering legislation to prevent fraudulent verifications of COVID-19 vaccinations.

New State Laws Seeking to Prohibit COVID-19 Vaccination Verification Requirements

In Arkansas, SB 615 (signed into law) prohibits state and local governments from requiring an individual to provide documentation verifying the individual’s COVID-19 vaccination for any purpose. The bill would also prohibit the verification of a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition for entry, travel, education, or services.

Florida’s SB 2006 (signed by governor) prohibits governmental and business entities as well as educational institutions (i.e., all public and private schools from preschools to post-secondary) from requiring a person, patron, or student to “provide documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-infection recovery” for access to, entry upon, or services from the entity or institution. The bill would allow screening protocols to be used by a government, business entity, or educational institution. It would also impose a $5,000 fine for each violation and would not apply to healthcare and certain mental health providers.

Indiana’s HB 1405 (signed by governor) prohibits state and local governments from issuing or requiring any “written, electronic, or printed information regarding an individual's [COVID-19] immunization status.” Certain activities are excluded from the prohibition including maintaining immunization records for public health purposes.

State Bills Seeking to Prohibit COVID-19 Vaccination Verification Requirements

Alabama’s SB 267 (passed Senate) prohibits state and local governments from issuing documentation certifying an individual’s immunization status or requiring the sharing of an individual’s immunization records. The bill would also prohibit governmental and business entities from conditioning an individual’s entry or admission to buildings and property and an individual’s access to goods and services on documentation verifying the individual’s vaccine status. The bill would apply to all vaccines, not just COVID-19 vaccines, and the state’s school immunization requirements would be excluded from the prohibitions. A proposed amendment to the bill would also exclude “physicians, surgeons, dentists, medical institutions, or other health care providers” as defined by law.

In Iowa, HF 889 (passed both legislative chambers) would prohibit the inclusion of a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status on a government-issued identification card. The bill would also prohibit governmental and business entities from requiring individuals to verify receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination before entering a government or business premises. Violations of the prohibition would be subject to a loss of state funded grants and contracts. Governmental and business entities would be allowed to implement screening protocols, other than vaccination verification.

Missouri’s HB 589 (passed House) would prohibit any entity from requiring documentation of vaccination against any disease from individuals accessing transportation systems, services, or facilities. The bill would also prohibit government entities from issuing documentation that verifies an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status to a third party and prohibit businesses from requiring customers to provide verification of COVID-19 vaccination or post-infection recovery for entry to the business or receiving services from the business. Noncompliance with the proposed law would make a business ineligible for state funded grants and contracts.

In Tennessee, SB 0858 (passed both legislative chambers) would prohibit state and local governments from requiring private businesses to condition entry upon their premises or access to their services on proof of a customer’s COVID-19 vaccination.

In Texas, SB 968 (passed Senate) would prohibit the government from issuing documentation to verify a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status except for healthcare purposes and would prohibit businesses from requiring that customers provide documentation verifying receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination or recovery from infection before entering the business’ premises or receiving services. Failure to comply with the law would result in the business being ineligible for state grants or contracts. Businesses would be allowed to implement COVID-19 screening and infection control protocols.

Additional bills to prohibit the documentation verifying COVID-19 vaccination and/or to condition an individual’s entry, admission, or receipt of governmental or business services on documented verification of a COVID-19 vaccination have also be introduced in Alaska (HB 175), California (AB 327), Michigan (HB 4667), Minnesota (SF 2430, SF 2474, SF 2475, HF 2511, HF 2530), New Jersey (S 3674), Ohio (HB 253, SB 169), and Washington (HB 1570).

Maintaining Trustworthy COVID-19 Vaccine Records

Some states are also considering legislation to penalize anyone who falsifies documentation to verify COVID-19 vaccination. In New Jersey, S 3692 (introduced) sets out criminal penalties for anyone who knowingly sells, offers, or transfers a false COVID-19 vaccination verification card. In New York, a pair of similar bills, A 6151 and S 4516 (introduced), would make it unlawful for anyone to intentionally falsify or alter a COVID-19 vaccination to misrepresent an individual’s vaccine history. The law would apply to both physical vaccine record cards and digital vaccine documentation.

Communities are beginning to recover from the pandemic as more people get vaccinated against COVID-19. Determining the limits on how documentation of a person’s COVID-19 vaccination can be used, and establishing protections for the documentation are emerging issues facing state and territorial policy makers. As these policy makers address the issues surrounding COVID-19 vaccine verifications ASTHO will continue to keep its members informed of their decisions.