Kansas City Star. April 5, 2021.

Editorial: Vaccine passports are a matter of Missouri getting back to normal, not politics

Gov. Mike Parson’s announced Thursday that he will not require Missourians to show they’ve been inoculated against COVID-19 with a “vaccine passport” — meaning he’s deflecting the responsibility to keep people safe onto businesses and municipalities.

“If the private sector wants to do that, I’m fine with that,” Parson told reporters. “As far as the state goes, we won’t mandate vaccine passports.”

It sounds a lot like his refusal to issue a statewide mask mandate or take a definitive stance on when to close schools or businesses, even while COVID-19 infections were exploding across the state. In some parts of Missouri, masks were never required in public places. Parson took some heat for those decisions.

Kansas City health officials don’t seem to think it’s likely people will be made to carry a vaccine passport in the city any time soon.

“I think that would take a lot of real careful thought and scrutiny before we would go there,” Kansas City Health Director Dr. Rex Archer told The Star Editorial Board last month.

But he also said he thinks “that passport vaccination issue would be an important strategy in protecting us,” and added that there are ethical and equity concerns to consider in ensuring that vulnerable populations are not unintentionally, unjustly or unfairly targeted.

OK, can’t we address those concerns?

Let’s keep in mind that it wouldn’t be the first rule individual Americans have to follow to protect the whole. It’s not political — it’s about smart public health policy. We all have to maintain car insurance to drive legally, and a driver’s license to prove we’ve gotten some level of training to keep ourselves and our fellow motorists safe. Children are required to be vaccinated before attending public school.

Meanwhile, North Kansas City-based Cerner is busy working to create a secure digital passport system that would allow people to show proof of vaccination to enter public spaces — movie theaters, restaurants, stadiums, bars — where one might worry about coming in contact with a virus carrier.

That flimsy paper card you get at the vaccination centers might be good in the state and hold up temporarily, but it’s not going to cut it in the long term. Other states have already figured out that those cards are too easily counterfeited and are looking to go digital.

Some states, such as New York, launched their own passports about a week ago. Other state governments and businesses are considering it. Around the world, governments and businesses are already using some form of vaccine passport and requiring them for people to engage in certain activities.

Last week, health ministers of G-7 countries, including Canada, the U.K., France, Germany and Japan met and agreed there needs to be some system that’s recognizable no matter where a person travels, according to a report in Travelweek.

The pandemic is not over by a long stretch, even as the number of Americans who’ve received at least one vaccine shot climbs toward 100 million. Health officials warn that we still have virus variants to worry about, and people are still getting sick and dying.

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams on Thursday said there remains a notable level of skepticism about the vaccine, and that is contributing to distribution issues in the state.

But said he’s working on a $5 million project with trusted community leaders to provide information about the vaccine to combat public concerns.

As for state-mandated vaccine passports or health certificates, Parson can say what he wants now, but once businesses start turning away folks who don’t have proof of vaccination, it seems inevitable that some type of statewide digitized proof of vaccination credential will be needed.

Some Republican state senators last week rejected the idea of vaccine passports as unnecessarily restricting freedom of travel, and suggested the state ban them altogether.

An amendment from state Sen. Lincoln Hough, a Republican from Greene County, would prohibit organizations from requiring COVID-19 vaccination documentation to get on airplanes, buses, cabs or trains, was attached to a transportation bill and adopted last week. It’s awaiting a third reading.

We’re not in favor of that. Airlines and other transportation networks are private businesses. Isn’t the GOP pledged to protect them from new government interference?

It’s more likely that Missourians will be screaming for these passports eventually anyway, because not having them will mean we won’t be able to engage with the rest of the country, the rest of the globe. Soon, no one will be getting on a plane without proof of vaccination.

And imagine visiting family and friends or vacationing outside the state. Even if you get there, you may not be allowed into the concert hall, the festival — maybe not even into a hotel room. You want to go see your Chiefs, your Royals play? You’re probably going to have to prove you’ve gotten that shot in the arm with a scannable code on your phone or the back of your driver’s license.

Either Missouri is going to have to join the world club on this one, or just be left out.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch. April 1, 2021.

Editorial: Feds fill the gap where Parson failed in coronavirus vaccination effort

At long last, the federal government is stepping in to make up for the Parson administration’s egregious failure to tackle the pandemic by distributing vaccines where they are most urgently needed. At long last, Missourians have more than just hopes and wishes that, perhaps someday soon, they can get their lives back to normal after months of lackluster leadership by Gov. Mike Parson.

Parson’s strategy for delivering coronavirus vaccines to Missourians who want them has been a failure, leaving his state’s vaccination rates among the worst in the country. Many St. Louisans who have received at least one shot have had to travel hundreds of miles to get it. Meanwhile, doses have gone unused and wasted in rural areas where partisan messaging that downplayed the seriousness of the virus for months has reduced demand for the vaccine.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that it will be opening mass vaccination sites in St. Louis and Gary, Indiana. The St. Louis site, the Dome at America’s Center in downtown, will be open seven days a week and will administer as many as 168,000 vaccine doses over eight weeks. The federal effort will help St. Louisans get access to the vaccine — access that had been largely restricted by Parson’s critically flawed allocation methods.

At nearly every step along the way, Parson has mishandled this pandemic. He failed to deliver a clear message about the seriousness of the virus. Instead of leading, he chose to follow the Trump administration’s politicized messaging and downplaying of mask-wearing. Until recent months, he had left more than a billion dollars in federal aid unspent.

His failure to lead left a void that fell to mayors and county executives to fill. Yet Parson’s fellow Republicans in Jefferson City have even introduced bills to restrict local governments’ authority to issue lifesaving mandates and restrictions during this health crisis.

The virus has now claimed the lives of close to 9,000 Missourians, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If not for the leadership of local officials, the numbers likely would have been worse. Missouri ranks at the bottom of the national list of vaccination rates, which is why the federal government is intervening.

Parson had the gall to claim to reporters on the day of FEMA’s announcement that he played a role in the success of efforts by St. Louis County and the city in stemming the rise of the coronavirus and deploying what limited vaccines local officials had access to.

Missourians should be clear: Parson deserves minimal credit but every bit of the considerable blame for Missouri’s disastrous pandemic response. He missed his opportunity to lead. He should stand aside and let the Biden administration provide Missourians the help their governor couldn’t — or wouldn’t.


St. Joseph News Press. April 2, 2021.

Editorial: Voters asked, it’s time to deliver

Two state representatives from St. Joseph, Brenda Shields and Bill Falkner, deserve praise for bucking the House majority and voting to provide funding for Medicaid expansion in Missouri.

Most likely, this was a vote that put personal experience over party loyalty. Shields served as CEO of the United Way, and Falkner was mayor of St. Joseph. Both would have become well acquainted with the health needs of working poor adults in St. Joseph, where the poverty rate is 17%.

A couple of points should be noted in this ugly debate on Medicaid funding, which voters approved in Missouri last year. One is that opposition is not monolithic. The governor, who opposed expansion during the election, included the funding in his version of the budget. That will have to be reconciled with the House budget.

The breathless public may be interpreting the House vote as killing Medicaid funding when it’s more of a statement, or an attempt to protect the right flank in a primary. Just the same, voters should be a little angry at themselves for letting it come to this.

Advocates of Medicaid funding speak of it in the same terms as conservatives with tax cuts, that it will all be painless and pay for itself. That may be true in the long run, but expanding Medicaid to cover about 275,000 low-income adults needs about $130 million in general revenue to get started in Missouri. That’s what Parson included in his budget.

The interest groups that got Medicaid expansion on the ballot didn’t include a funding source because they knew it would never pass. That’s in contrast with other states that thought more seriously about what would happen when federal money dries up.

Arizona and Colorado have hospital fees, and Louisiana has a tax on HMOs. Voters in Oregon approved a tax on hospitals, and California voters adopted two separate taxes for Medicaid expansion, including one that raised the levy on cigarettes.

In Missouri, what did those who pushed for Medicaid expansion think would happen when the cost was fobbed off on the conservative Legislature?

Those with longer memories will know that this kind of thing has happened in the past. In 2016, Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment that authorized the Legislature to pursue a photo ID requirement for voting in elections. With 63% approval, the voter intent in 2016 was more emphatic than the 53% that approved Medicaid expansion.

That hasn’t stopped opponents from using legislative and judicial means to block a photo ID law at every turn. The latest attempt is pending in the Legislature right now.

Maybe a grand compromise would be for Democrats to accept a photo ID for voting and for Republicans to fund the expansion of Medicaid. That is, after all, what voters said they wanted.