(Reuters) -Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Monday signed a bill that prohibited private businesses and public institutions from requiring COVID-19 “vaccine passports” to access services or refusing those not inoculated against the coronavirus.
“I’ve signed SB 267! Since the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, both Dr. Scott Harris (state health officer) and I have said that we would not mandate vaccines in the state of Alabama”, the governor said in a statement on Monday.
“I am supportive of a voluntary vaccine, and by signing this bill into law, I am only further solidifying that conviction”, Ivey, a Republican, said on Monday.
The governor’s statement added that Ivey has been vaccinated and would “encourage any Alabamian who has not gotten their shot to roll up their sleeves”.
The Alabama Republican party said the law was “protecting the privacy rights of Alabamians from the federal overreach of the Biden Administration”.
The administration of President Joe Biden has opposed the idea of making vaccine passports mandatory.
The law goes into effect immediately and says state and local governments may not issue vaccine or immunization passports, vaccine or immunization passes or any other standardized documentation for the purpose of certifying the immunization status of an individual.
The legislation cleared the state Legislature this month.
Educational institutions “may continue to require a student to prove vaccination status as a condition of attendance only for the specific vaccines that were already required by the institution as of January 1, 2021, provided that the institutions give an exemption for students with a medical condition or religious belief that is contrary to vaccination,” according to the text of the law.
The coronavirus has killed about 590,000 Americans and sickened more than 33 million, according to Reuters data. But as the pace of vaccinations accelerated in recent months, deaths and infections have dropped sharply, and the country has given enough shots to fully vaccinate over 39% of the population.
Officials have said vaccine hesitancy – people unwilling to get free COVID-19 vaccine shots – could be a barrier to eliminating the threat of the virus.
But the White House is in extended discussions with U.S. airlines and other travel industry groups to provide technical guidance for vaccine passports that could be used to ramp up international air travel safely, industry officials said last month.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru. Editing by Gerry Doyle)