COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
The fight against COVID-19 continues across the globe and health officials continue to say the strongest weapon is the coronavirus vaccine.
Now that the vaccine is more widely available, the supply is starting to outpace the demand.
Leaders across the country have been grappling with the idea of "vaccine passports" and other vaccination requirements to take part in public life. Here in Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson has made it clear he will not support vaccine passports or requirements of any type state-wide.
The federal government has also stated it has no plans to require vaccinations to travel or access businesses.
At the same time, local agencies and businesses could decide to require proof of vaccination, like what is happening in New York.
Should Mid-Missourians expect coronavirus vaccine passports or requirements?
Columbia/Boone County Health Department leaders believe it is not their place to require individuals to get the vaccine.
Spokeswoman Sara Humm said while the vaccine is strongly recommended as the best option to stop the spread of the virus, local officials have not discussed requiring the shot in any form
"We are encouraging folks to be vaccinated, but we don't feel like it's our place to make those kinds of decisions for what they will look like, as far as any sort of a vaccine passport," Humm said.
As far as health orders, a lot of data, including the number of people vaccinated, plays into the decision to open things back up, Humm said.
"We know at some point we are going to have to do more education and outreach to reach those people who maybe haven't gotten their vaccine for one reason or another and making sure they know it is effective and it is important," Humm said.
Cole County Presiding Commissioner Sam Bushman said in an email there are no plans to require vaccine passports or requirements of any kind, citing foreseen logistical issues. Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill did not respond to an email about any requirements.
Can individual businesses require proof of vaccination?
That becomes a tricky question to answer, but legal experts and business leaders say yes.
Local business attorney Brian Sleeth said businesses can ask staff to get vaccinated, but should have options for those who don't want to for moral, ethical, medical or any other reason. On option is having those employees take on less public-facing jobs, he said.
"There really is no mandate, the CDC controls the pandemic nationwide in a sense because it is a national event," Sleeth said. "(The vaccine) is a more intrusive option, it's something you have to affirmatively take into your body and people have a choice to do that or not, but there is also a harm to the greater society as people who aren't vaccinated could carry the disease."
As businesses start to open up more and events start back up, Sleeth said businesses have the right to set standards inside their walls.
"If they are in the business of putting on an event, if they are in the business of inviting people in, they can require rules for their customers, their clients, their patrons, they can say, 'We need to see proof of vaccination,' just like when you go into places and they are taking your temperature," Sleeth said.
He said if the business wants to require a vaccine identification of any kind, it's up to the customer whether to be a patron.
"If it's a concert, for example, you do not have to go to the concert, if you know ahead of time you have to be vaccinated to attend the concert, then you choose to comply with that or not go," Sleeth said.
But businesses rarely ask for medical records because of privacy and legal concerns. Sleeth said individuals may have grounds to say such rules infringe on their rights.
"That's the beauty of business versus government," Sleeth said. "Business we have a choice to do what we want. Now, if our government mandates that we have to do it, then we start asking ourselves, does the government have that authority and power?"
Columbia Chamber of Commerce President Matt McCormick said while the chamber does not have a stance on vaccine requirements or passports for businesses, there have been conversations about the requirements for businesses about liability on both sides of the issue.
"We just try to help guide them with what are the liabilities, contacting their counsel to understand what your liabilities are and what you are required," McCormick said. "At the end of the day it's a privately owned business, at a lot of it is making sure they are still following guidelines that are still there about social distancing, and masking wearing, and things along those lines to help keep their employees safe."
He said he hasn't heard of any businesses in the area requiring the vaccine for employees or patrons.
The biggest question for businesses is when social distancing requirements will be lifted.
"That's a conversation we continue to have because a lot of our restaurants, our small businesses, their footprint is only so large, whether they are at 50% capacity, their greatest limiting factor is that 6-foot social distancing," McCormick said.
Business has been picking back up, though, and McCormick attributed the rise to the rollout of the vaccine.
"I think a lot of that has to do with the longer that the vaccine is out, and now that it's readily available to anyone that wants that, that comfort level of being able to do that," McCormick said.
That is the reason why The Blue Note and Rose Music Hall say they have no plans to require the vaccine. Mike Nolan, the venue director for both establishments, said there have been talks about requirements with other venues and companies in the industry.
"There was talk about how that could be a thing in the industry this summer if vaccinations weren't rolled out, and weren't back to normal, like how could we operate while the pandemic is still going on," Nolan said. "All of those conversations in the industry have kind of been tabled because the rollout is going well."
Infectious disease expert weighs in on vaccine requirements
Dr. Christelle Ilboudo, an infectious disease expert at MU Health Care, said it's hard to expect any kind of vaccine requirement right now with only an Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA.
"In the context of a pandemic, yes we can use them for emergency purposes, but we can not yet mandate them," Ilboudo said. "I do think that in order to reach that herd immunity, that we need to have more people vaccinated."
She said herd immunity means about 75% to 80% of the population having immunity to the virus. That can come from either past infection or the vaccine. She said experts believe we will get to that point sometime, regardless of the vaccine-hesitant population.
"I don't think it's a matter of are we going to get there, I think it's a matter of what is the safest way to get there that will allow us to save the most lives and prevent the most infections," Ilboudo said.
A major concern in the health world is the spread of virus variants that could become more lethal or transmissible or render current vaccines useless. Ilboudo said the best way to stop the mutations is by getting vaccinated, reducing the number of potential hosts for the virus.
Even with the potential of variants, the vaccine doesn't have the same effect on everyone. Ilboudo said even with the vaccine in place, it's still important to remain vigilant.
"Even though having that vaccine passport is a great idea, it can be misleading because you don't know how well someone is going to be protected," Ilboudo said.
Missouri legislature looking to ban requirement
An amendment was added to a bill regarding animal abuse in the Missouri House of Representatives that would ban businesses from requiring proof of any vaccination, not just the coronavirus vaccines.
The amendment was tacked onto House Bill 589 and approved in an 88-56 vote. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.
The Missouri Senate also passed a bill that would ban vaccine passports for travel, which have been discussed by travel leaders and other states across the country.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson has made it clear in several interviews and tweets he will not require vaccine passports in Missouri.