Gov. Doug Ducey today banned state and local governments and some businesses from requiring vaccination status in his executive order released Monday.
“The residents of our state should not be required by the government to share their private medical information,” said Governor Ducey. “While we strongly recommend all Arizonans get the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s not mandated in our state—and it never will be. Vaccination is up to each individual, not the government.”
The executive order would prohibit state or local governments from requiring individuals to release their vaccination status in order to enter any building or receive a service, permit, license or work authorization.
Businesses receiving public funds from the state and under a state contract cannot require documentation to provide a service.
However, the order does not limit health institutions, state or local health departments, or even child care centers, schools or universities from requiring vaccination status. Long-term care, health care institutions and other entities that collect vaccination documents can still do so under the current state law. It also does not limit an individual from requesting the release of their own vaccination records.
While news of vaccination passports came from places across the globe, namely Israel, not city official had implemented or advocated for them.
"This executive order represents more divisive, political grandstanding from Governor Ducey against Arizona cities and is purely symbolic in nature," said Tucson Mayor Regina Romero. "The City of Tucson did not have any plans to implement any of the actions that the executive order purports to pre-empt. Had the governor asked, we would have happily shared this information with him."
The University of Arizona has not yet mandated vaccination passports or required students to provide documentation in order to attend, but President Robert C. Robbins continued to advocate for vaccine passports on campus before and after learning of the order during the Monday briefing.
“My hope is that at the universities and public schools will be able to not only trust that people have been vaccinated but verify,” said Robbins.
The University of Arizona currently offers students and staff the chance to upload their vaccination status, receiving a green “VX” in their Wildcat OneStop that exempts them from required COVID-19 testing. Unvaccinated students or staff can still receive the green “VX,” due to complicated medical issues or for religious reasons, Robbins said at the briefing Monday.
Former U.S. surgeon general and UA Task Force Director Dr. Richard Carmona said he was glad Ducey allowed universities to require documentation as they do with other illnesses.
The university is still deciding whether to mandate vaccine passports, but Robbins said they will have made the decision by the fall. Carmona said the decision is difficult and they face a common challenge among democracies.
“It's the right of an individual to their privacy versus the collective right of society to stay safe, and we're trying to balance those two,” said Carmona. “If there's a common ground we can find to, for instance anonymously, be able to have that information, and yet ensure that only people that are vaccinated get into these areas, that's a good thing for society...but irrespective of that we're going to continue to inspire, beg, cajole and do everything we can to get every young man or woman, staff, faculty and staff, vaccinated, here at the university because that's what's best for our community and the university.”
The UA POD has administered 175,548 vaccines as of April 18, with little more than a quarter given to self-identified Hispanic or Latinx individuals.
Unlike other vaccination sites, the university has not officially offered no-appointment walk-ins at the UA POD.
“If we just had everybody come in, then we're going to have mass gatherings of hundreds of people showing up," Carmona said. “We're trying to do a balance. Those people who are willing to make an appointment, we can staff appropriately.”
UA Vice President of Communications Holly Jensen clarified that they have been taking no-appointment walk-ins. If someone arrives with a relative, friend or guest and wishes to be vaccinated, they accommodate them.
Two weeks ago the university also offered students the ability to register for same-day appointments, in order to spur on student vaccination before the end of the semester.
Since the announcement, Jensen said they had a “significant uptick” in student vaccinations over the last week as well as an increase in the number of students uploading their vaccination records to receive COVID-19 testing exemption.
She said last week about 3,400 students had uploaded their vaccination status and as of Monday morning, that had increased to 5,800 students.
On April 15, the university sent out a survey asking students about their interest in the vaccination effort and barriers they may face in getting vaccinated. They hope students will respond by Monday.
Anyone 16 and older is eligible for vaccination at the UA POD. To register for an appointment visit podvaccine.azdhs.gov. For further assistance email email@example.com or call 602-542-1000 for help in English or Spanish.
The UA POD is open for walk-in or drive-thru appointments from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.
On April 30, the UA POD will move indoors to double or triple capacity inside the Ina Gittings building east of Cherry Avenue, announced Jensen at the briefing Monday.
Vaccine Hesitancy Increases with J&J Pause
While the university maintains a 1.7% positivity rate with over 253,000 COVID-19 tests administered and a decrease in the rate of transmission from 1.02 to 0.99 for the ZIP code 85719, officials continue to remain cautious and advocate for vaccinations.
“We have to remain vigilant. We have to remain resilient and continue to follow the guidelines that the CDC and WHO have given us,” said Robbins. “This is a global pandemic and we have to not only act locally, but think globally about the magnitude of this pandemic.”
Carmona points to the increase in vaccine hesitancy as a concern for further vaccination efforts, especially after the CDC recommended a pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Robbins said the pause "adds fuel to that fire of people who don't believe, people who are conspiracy theorists, the people who just don't trust the government.”
According to Carmona, those declining vaccination make up about a third of the population.
He said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine only makes up about 5% of vaccine allocation. As of Friday the state had allocated 226,300 J&J vaccines, of which approximately 122,000 were administered. With 4,495,519 vaccines administered in the state as of Monday, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes up about 2% of vaccines administered in the state.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will hold an emergency meeting on April 23 to discuss the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Carmona expects the vaccine would return.
He also notes that there are still approximately 70 million children that would contribute to herd immunity that have not been cleared to receive any vaccine, except for those age 16 and older, who can receive the Pfizer vaccine.
The lack of vaccination among children is more concerning as the state sees an increase in the UK variant (B.1.1.7) that in several studies (notably studies done in Israel) found the variant to be more transmissible among younger people. The UK variant could become the dominant variant in Arizona in the coming weeks, said Dr. Joshua LaBaer, a professor and executive director of Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute.
Biodesign Institute staff found 83.8 percent of COVID-19 samples for every 100 positive tests collected were suspected as the B.1.1.7 UK variant in the week ending April 18.
However, genetic sequencing is required to confirm the S gene dropout samples in the variant.
“In our experience so far, most of them are. I think that the last time we cross-compared, something like 90% of S gene dropouts were B.1.1.7. Many places do not verify by sequencing but instead rely on the S gene dropout alone because B.1.1.7 transmits so highly,” said LaBaer. “The UK variant is clearly on the rise now.”
LaBaer also emphasizes the importance of vaccination with the rise of the UK variant, not only for the community, but for personal reasons.
“Herd immunity tells us that we're less likely to get chain reactions of the virus to the community, but on an individual basis, if you personally want to be protected from getting sick from COVID-19, then it's much better for you personally to get vaccinated,” said LaBaer. “That's a good take-home message and the vaccines still are extremely effective at preventing severe outcomes, and they are still extraordinarily safe.”