HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte issued Tuesday an executive order banning the development or use of vaccine passports in Montana.
The move by Gianforte comes as vaccine passports — documents used to verify COVID-19 immunization status and allow inoculated people to more freely travel, shop and dine — have been portrayed by Republicans across the country as a heavy-handed intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices.
The order prohibits Montana state agencies from requiring COVID-19 vaccines to access state services or facilities. It also prohibits the state from issuing or funding such documentation, and sharing individuals’ vaccination status with other entities. Finally, it prohibits businesses in the state from requiring customers to get the COVID-19 vaccine to access services.
Gianforte, a Republican who got the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month, was diagnosed with the virus last week, and is recovering and isolating in his home. He said in a statement that he encourages Montanans to get the vaccine, but that receiving it is “entirely voluntary” and will not be mandated by the state.
“We are committed to protecting individual liberty and personal privacy,” Gianforte said.
The order comes as the Montana Legislature is considering several bills that would ban the use of vaccine passports in the state. Montana is one of several Republican-controlled states to advance such measures as vaccination efforts ramp up across the U.S.
Vaccine passports have already been implemented in New York and are being considered in Hawaii, but there is no federal vaccine passport program, and a national program has been ruled out by the administration of President Joe Biden.
Access to the vaccine was opened to all Montana residents age 16 and older on April 1. According to Gianforte’s order, 71% of Montana residents age 70 and older have already chosen to receive the vaccine. Just under a quarter of all Montana residents are fully vaccinated as of Tuesday.
Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.