Orange County will not require a vaccine ‘passport’ following a backlash, officials say
When Orange County announced last week that it would be starting a vaccine “passport” pilot program this month, it caused uproar among some residents who believe it would encroach on their freedom.
The announcement came amid a national conversation over potential government-issued vaccine passports, which the state and federal government aren’t requiring.
About 200 residents showed up to speak at an Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday to voice their opposition to the county’s program. Orange County Health Care Agency Director Clayton Chau and the supervisors sought to allay their concerns before the public comment period.
Chau said the county isn’t requiring a vaccine passport, but the agency is planning to offer a digital vaccination record for residents who request it. The record will likely be in the form of a scannable QR code in the Othena app, which the county has used for scheduling coronavirus testing and COVID-19 vaccinations.
Chau said the digital record can be useful because private businesses may require customers to be vaccinated. He said the county is not requiring anyone to be vaccinated.
As more people become vaccinated and the economy reopens, certain businesses and venues may only admit people who have been vaccinated. That would require a digital or physical vaccination record.
The county will close the COVID-19 testing super sites at the Orange County Fairgrounds and the Anaheim Convention Center on April 30, the Orange County Health Care Agency announced on Monday.
“So as you know, President Biden said while there is no national passport requirement, we have to produce something for Americans when they encounter a situation where there is a required proof of vaccination,” Chau said.
“The question has always been, can the government do that? The answer now is no. But can the private side do that? The answer’s yes. I am not an attorney, but that’s what I was told, that a business has every right to do whatever they want to do to make their environment safe.”
Chau also pointed out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned the public about fake vaccination cards. A digital vaccination record could be more reliable.
“I want to stress that the only purpose of that is to give people a record that they’ve been vaccinated,” Chau said of the digital record.
Board Chairman Andrew Do said the county’s use of the word “passport” was “probably inartful.”
Do and Supervisor Don Wagner voiced their opposition to government-issued vaccine passports in a media release on Monday night.
“This is America,” Do said in the release. “Under no circumstances would or should we ever need a passport to live and get services within our community.”
Wagner, who has opposed the state’s efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, echoed those thoughts in the release: “It is no business of the government telling free citizens where they may travel, and government must never discriminate against its citizens because of their vaccine status.”
At the meeting, supervisors tried to communicate that the county’s pilot program is not a government-regulated passport.
“We’ve got 200 people who want to speak about this, and they are concerned that at some point we are going to say, without the digital equivalent of this card or something else, you’re not going to be able to travel in Orange County, you’re not going be able to come in to Orange County and leave Orange County, you’re not going to be able to go to a grocery store,” Wagner said at the meeting. “That is not what we’re doing, that is not what you’re intending, and you will resist that if ever somebody proposes it to you, right?” Wagner asked Chau.
“That’s correct,” Chau said.
New Supervisor Katrina Foley, who replaced Michelle Steel, pointed to the misunderstanding of some of the public.
“I am concerned that we are allowing a small minority of individuals who have been calling our offices all day yesterday and that still started ringing this morning ... to dictate how we serve the community’s health,” Foley said.
Following the supervisors’ comments, residents took turns castigating the board and the proposed program for hours. Many claimed there was no pandemic and vaccines lack efficacy. A Bible verse was read aloud and the power of God was referenced more than once. Terms such as “communism” and “fascism” were used.
“Let me be nothing if not clear, you can call this any damn thing you want ... we all know it when we see it, it is a digital vaccine passport,” said resident Leigh Dundas. “It is the beginning and the end of Nazi Germany. It is show me your papers please before you pass. It is an electronic dog collar. And since when did Orange County become the People’s Republic of China?”
“Orange County residents, as Americans, should not be forced to receive an experimental vaccine and then be required to share that private health information just to live a normal life,” said resident Steve Rivera. “We all have the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, as stated in the Declaration of Independence. The freedom of movement and travel cannot be infringed because it is a fundamental right.”
Brazil writes for Times Community News.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.