Throughout my tenure in the Legislature, I have always stood up for the medical privacy rights of Minnesotans. We are fortunate to live in a state that has stronger medical privacy laws than the national average, and those laws are worth protecting. Over the years I have seen many government entities, business groups and other special interests try to diminish our medical privacy laws to try and obtain greater access to Minnesotans’ private medical information.
Today Minnesotans’ medical privacy rights face a new challenge with the advent of COVID-19 vaccine passports. A vaccine passport is a record that proves your immunization status. They have been hailed as a tool to help us out of the pandemic by incentivizing people to get vaccinated so they can go to concerts, sporting events and other activities. However, this logic is flawed and misguided.
Vaccine passports are really more about exclusion than inclusion. We should not exclude a group of citizens from our society who, due to a medical, scientific or logistical reason, have opted not to take a vaccine. Minority populations and the poor would be most disproportionately affected by vaccine passports. Research shows those communities are more likely to lack access to quality health care and are more likely to be unvaccinated. We shouldn’t be creating a new system to exacerbate the inequalities in our society.
Should a person who is allergic to the ingredients of a vaccine be restricted from participating in society because they are unvaccinated through no fault of their own? Should they be excluded from restaurants, public transportation and sporting events even if they feel safe attending?
For example, look at our transportation system. Many buses, trains and planes have continued to operate throughout the pandemic to safely transport people while using public health safety precautions. Many Minnesotans rely on these modes of transportation for work and everyday life. Vaccine passports threaten to take away Minnesotans’ ability to take public transportation if they are unvaccinated for any reason. Someone who safely relied on a public bus to get to work during the pandemic could now have their ability to get to work taken away even as COVID-19 cases decline.
Each person should be able to make their own judgment in consultation with their doctor about whether to take a vaccine. Likewise, each person should be able to make their own judgment as to whether their vaccination status is public or private. Vaccine passports allow governments and major corporations to coerce people into sharing their private health information.
My deep concern is the desire to end this pandemic is being used by special interests to gain access to our private health information. We are making tremendous progress towards ending this pandemic. Vaccination rates keep growing while COVID-19 case rates keep declining. Now is not the time to create more needless divisions in our communities.
We are nearing 70% of Minnesotans getting vaccinated and the state getting back open again. Other states have already safely reopened. Ultimately, Minnesotans themselves should be able to decide when and where they feel safe. Gov. Tim Walz has stated he has no interest in doing vaccine passports in Minnesota, and let’s hope he keeps his word. I will continue working hard to protect Minnesotans’ against the persistent erosion of our medical privacy rights and be a champion for sensible public health policies.
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, represents District 31 in the Minnesota Senate and is chair of the Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee.