Under a new executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas this week, government agencies, private businesses and institutions that receive state funding cannot require people to show proof that they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Mr. Abbott said that vaccination status is private health information, and that no one should have to disclose it as a condition of engaging in normal activities. His order includes an exception allowing nursing homes and similar care facilities to require documentation of vaccination status for their residents.
A wide range of businesses, including cruise lines and airlines, are eager for people to be issued some kind of credential, often called a vaccine passport, that they can present to show they are immunized so that the businesses can more safely reopen, especially as the number of new virus cases rises across the country.
But a growing number of Republicans are politicizing the issue and framing proof-of-vaccination requirements and vaccine passports as government overreach. Last year many Republican governors rejected mask mandates for similar reasons, often calling the requirement to wear masks in public settings a violation of a citizen’s personal liberties, despite overwhelming evidence that masks stem the spread of the virus.
On Sunday, Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi said he opposes the idea of vaccine passports, and last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, issued an executive order banning policies that would require that customers provide any proof of vaccination. Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska has said his state would not participate in any vaccine passport program. Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri has said that he would not require vaccine passports in the state but was also not opposed to private companies adopting them.
Vaccine passports, including digital ones, raise daunting political, ethical and privilege questions. The Biden administration has made clear that it will neither issue nor require the passports.
Legal experts said there may be questions, depending on state law, about whether governors are authorized to bar requests for vaccination status by executive decree. But they said State Legislatures are most likely free to enact statutes to do so.
In 1905, the Supreme Court ruled that states can enforce compulsory vaccination laws. For more than a century, that ruling has let public schools require proof of vaccinations of its students, with some exceptions for religious objections.
Private companies, moreover, are free to refuse to employ or do business with whomever they want, subject to just a few exceptions that do not include vaccination status. But states can probably override that freedom by enacting a law barring discrimination based on vaccination status.
Adam Liptak and Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.