PROVIDENCE — Private colleges and universities across New England were some of the first businesses to announce that they will require all students that plan to return for the fall semester to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Roger Williams University in Bristol and Brown University were the first two in Rhode Island to announce vaccine mandates last month, and it’s causing some local lawmakers to wonder if similar directives will be implemented elsewhere.
“There shouldn’t be a pre-requisite to walk around or get on a RIPTA bus,” said Representative David Place, a conservative Republican and retired U.S. Army staff sergeant from Burrillville. He introduced a bill this week that would prohibit Rhode Islanders from having to prove that they received the vaccine when entering a public buildings, private businesses, or to attend an institute of higher education.
Place said he hasn’t heard of any state or municipality leaders discuss the possibility of a vaccine passport, but said his constituents, who are located in Burrillville and Glocester, were worried that they would be expected to share their personal medical records in the future.
Place said some of his constituents just “don’t trust the vaccine yet,” and said they shouldn’t be “forced to put something in their bodies that is still experimental.”
Other states have already made moves on the issue.
In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey issued an executive order in mid-April that prohibited all state and local governments from requiring people to publicize their vaccine status to receive services or to enter an area. However, the ban does not apply to private businesses and health care institutions. Senators in Pennsylvania introduced legislation Thursday that would ban the state from requiring a vaccine passport, echoing Governor Tom Wolf’s sentiments that the state would not require vaccine passports, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.
California is not pursing a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine passport requirement, but is monitoring any businesses, including sports teams or event venues, that might mandate it.
New York became the first state to launch a COVID-19 vaccine passport, called Excelsior Pass, but the digital platform is free and voluntary for New Yorkers to show a negative PCR test or antigen test, in addition to their vaccination status.
Some in Rhode Island, however, say they don’t have a problem with requiring proof of vaccination.
Retired district court judge Steve Erickson said COVID-19 vaccines should be mandatory, like smallpox.
“Private businesses have the right to refuse service to people who are endangering employees and other customers,” said Erickson, who also served four terms as a Republican state legislator, including a stint as House Minority Minority Whip.
Place said he’s open to making amendments to the bill while it’s still in committee and is looking to hear from members of the community.
“We don’t yet know the long-term effects” of the COVID-19 vaccine, said Place. “Compared to every other vaccine that’s required at universities and grade schools has been proven for years— sometimes for generations” whereas the COVID-19 vaccine only started being administered in Rhode Island in December.
He added, “I’m not going to tell anyone what to do.”