PA Department of Health: Vaccine passports? Not here

Pennsylvanians won’t have to worry about carrying vaccine passports, state officials say.

Public health officials in Pennsylvania are saying they will not follow in New York’s footsteps and adopt vaccine passports.

no vaccine
Commissioners Bob Ziobrowski, left, and David Keller, center, were engaged in a discussion last week at the opening of a county COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Chambersburg Mall. Pennsylvania has said it will not implement “vaccination passports” as New York has done. FCFP photo

Rather, the state’s COVID-19 Vaccination Task Force sees easing hesitancy as its most urgent priority. That was acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam’s message Tuesday during a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting.

Instead, DOH is concentrating on overcoming vaccine hesitancy among its population.

Some 55% of residents have not received their first dose of the vaccine, Beam said. That’s despite eligibility opening to all adults and teens 16 and older nearly two weeks ago. About 12.8 million people live in Pennsylvania. The state has about 3.1 million fully immunized residents. Nearly 8 million have received at least one dose, the department said.

“We want to make sure our hesitancy and all that we are really doing to educate and give information is where our heads are focused; not on the vaccine passport concept or the perpetuation of it in Pennsylvania,” she said.

READ: COVID-19 Vaccination center opens at Mall

New York’s Excelsoir Pass

New York launched its Excelsior Pass last month. The app provides digital proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or negative test using a QR code connected to the state’s vaccine registry and the databases of several testing companies.

Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-Jacobus, co-sponsored a bill earlier this month that would ban vaccine passports. She said the policy represents “an extreme government intrusion” into residents’ lives. It would lead to discrimination against those who don’t get immunized, she said.

“I would appreciate the governor’s signature on that bill,” she said.

READ: COVID-19 vaccine: WellSpan has vaccinated thousands

It’s not just Beam’s responsibility to advocate for the immunization either, Minority Chairman Vince Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said. He participated remotely in the conversation on Thursday after receiving the first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are now getting into those who are truly hesitant about vaccines,” he said. “We need to make sure we portray trusted messengers delivering trusted messages that the vaccine is OK.”

Majority Chairman Pat Browne, R-Allentown, echoed similar sentiments.

“We should always use opportunities like this to advocate and advance what we believe is in the best interest of our constituents; and encourage everyone we serve to utilize the public health measures that are out there and to seek, as soon as possible, vaccination,” he said.

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Christen Smith

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.