TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A new executive order bans any Florida government agency from issuing a COVID-19 vaccine passport and restricts any business from requiring them before allowing a customer to enter.
Governor Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) issued the executive order Friday for the next 90 days, and he said he wanted to make sure people can go to a game, a restaurant or a movie theater without proving they got the vaccine.
Public health experts and attorneys said there are layers to the concept of vaccine passports.
"Any citizen who is denied access might be able to sue and claim that they’ve been discriminated against because of their failure to provide private health information," said Dr. Jay Wolfson, a professor of public health at USF Health in Tampa.
Dr. Wolfson said there are HIPPA concerns with the privacy of medical records. But instead of requiring proof, some businesses can reward customers who voluntarily share it with them.
"I understand that the Miami Heat is saying for people who show us that they’ve been vaccinated, they get front row seats. We’re going to give them a special front-row seat," said Wolfson.
When it comes to enforcing the executive order, Tampa consumer attorney Billy Howard said it has little impact on private businesses.
"Most businesses are allowed to do what they want. It may restrict some businesses that get state funding, but you’re allowed to test people when they come in and that’s really the most important thing," said Howard, of the Consumer Protection Firm. "You’re going to take somebody’s temperature and ask them to wear a mask and ask them to social distance. So as long as businesses are being responsible, we’ll all be okay."
If businesses did want to add a vaccine requirement, some attorneys said it could also affect their bottom line.
"Businesses want to make money right? So if one business is doing this and maybe across the street isn’t, customers are really just going to go across the street," said Jamila Little, an immigration lawyer with Little Law, P.A.
Little explained how requiring proof leaves many people out of the mix right now.
"There’s so much of the population that just has not been vaccinated. Just the fact that it’s going to create an issue for access to basic things, that’s going to be a problem," said Little.
Attorneys and public health experts said they see vaccine passports for travel or school in the future. But they said the U.S. and state governments need to work out some issues with vaccine access and privacy concerns before rolling out the passes.
Meanwhile, a private university in South Florida will require students and staff to be vaccinated for COVID-19 when they return to campus in the fall. Vaccinations are mandatory by Aug. 1, Nova Southeastern University said in an email announcing a Friday morning news conference.
"As the state, nation and world begins to emerge from the months-long changes to our lives brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Nova Southeastern University is pleased to announce that it intends to resume full, in-person classroom learning for on-ground courses for the fall 2021 semester," the release said.
The university has 6,314 undergraduate students and 14,574 advanced degree students at its main campus in Davie, and across campuses in Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Miami, Miramar, Orlando, Palm Beach Gardens, Tampa and Puerto Rico.
It's unclear if the university would be in violation of the governor's order.