Herd immunity from the COVID-19 virus is the place we want to be. The quickest and most efficient way of getting there is widespread vaccination.

Across the nation, various mechanisms have been put in place to facilitate vaccination from big vaccine clinics, to messaging aimed at combating hesitancy, to incentives intended to push fence-sitters toward rolling up their sleeves.

As a country, however, we have stopped short of a vaccine mandate. There is no law requiring vaccination against COVID-19.

Such a law in a country that respects citizens’ right to set their own health care course would be a concerning shift in direction. It would represent a government intrusion into an area of personal privacy that would, at the very least, result in legal challenge. The inevitable conflict that would be stoked by such a measure would distract, ultimately, from the prize of herd immunity.

Likewise, a vaccine passport – a shorthand way of describing a requirement for proof of vaccination – comes very close to a vaccine mandate if any such “passport” were to be required by government. A passport mandate for admission or participation is akin to a vaccination mandate. As such, government should not enshrine any government mandate for a vaccine passport.

Republicans in Pennsylvania’s Senate have begun advancing legislation to prohibit local government units and school districts from requiring a COVID-19 vaccination for access of any sort. The bill has passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee with six Republicans in favor and four Democrats against. Other states in the nation are pursing similar legislation.

The prohibition on vaccine passports, as crafted in the proposed Pennsylvania legislation, would apply to local government, state agencies, and school districts. They would be precluded from requiring proof of vaccination to enter buildings, use services or engage in activities. The legislation would not apply to private organizations or businesses.

The legislation should become law.

A vaccine passport mandated by any governmental entity is far too close to a de facto vaccine mandate and that constitutes a deep government intrusion into a personal health decision.

It bears repeating that widespread vaccination is the goal. But, citizens must be convinced to take the initiative. They should be persuaded that getting vaccinated is a matter of individual self-interest as well as social conscience. They should be offered incentives. They should be counseled by their doctors and their friends. But, they should not be forced by law or coerced by any measure that is just shy of a legal requirement. Safety is a legitimate concern, especially in the school setting, but testing requirements can be put in place for those who insistently decline to be inoculated against the deadly virus.

In the end, making the choice to be vaccinated is right. But, in this matter and at this time, citizens have a right to be wrong. Any backdoor measure like a required vaccine passport on the part of government is giving too much power to government.

– Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Board