Virus Outbreak-New York

New York's new "Excelsior Pass" app is a digital pass that people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

(The Center Square) – Public health officials in Pennsylvania are saying they will not follow in New York’s footsteps and adopt vaccine passports.

Rather, acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said during a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting Thursday that the state’s COVID-19 Vaccination Task Force sees easing hesitancy as its most urgent priority.

“Really, what we’ve all coalesced around at this time is that the vaccine passport concept is not something we are considering,” she said.

Some 55% of residents have not received their first dose of the vaccine, Beam said, despite eligibility opening to all adults and teens 16 and older nearly two weeks ago. About 12.8 million residents live in Pennsylvania, and as of Saturday, 3.1 million are fully immunized. Nearly 8 million have received at least one dose, the department said.

“We want to make sure our hesitancy and all that we are really doing to educate and give information is where our heads are focused, not on the vaccine passport concept or the perpetuation of it in Pennsylvania,” she said.

New York launched its Excelsior Pass last month. The app provides digital proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or negative test using a QR code that is connected to the state's vaccine registry and the databases of several testing companies.

Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-Jacobus, co-sponsored a bill earlier this month that would ban vaccine passports. She said the policy represents “an extreme government intrusion” into residents’ lives and would lead to discrimination against those who don’t get immunized.

“I would appreciate the governor’s signature on that bill,” she said.

Minority Chairman Vince Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said it's not just Beam’s responsibility to advocate for the immunization either. He participated remotely in the conversation on Thursday after receiving the first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are now getting into those who are truly hesitant about vaccines,” he said. “We need to make sure we portray trusted messengers delivering trusted messages that the vaccine is OK.”

Majority Chairman Pat Browne, R-Allentown, echoed similar sentiments.

“We should always use opportunities like this to advocate and advance what we believe is in the best interest of our constituents and encourage everyone we serve to utilize the public health measures that are out there and to seek, as soon as possible, vaccination,” he said.

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.