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Hundreds Protest Board of Supervisors’ Decision to Implement COVID-19 Vaccine Passport in Orange County

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Orange County residents protested the vaccine passport system proposed by the Board of Supervisors early May, leading to a halt of the program’s implementation.

Approximately 500 people attended a rally outside of Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting on May 11 in response to the digital vaccine passport program proposed by the Orange County officials. The program would allow individuals to participate in certain activities with proof of vaccination. Most of the protesters submitted their cards to speak on the issue with the Board of Supervisors in their public meeting.

The program, which was set to go into effect on the day of the protest, was paused by a 4-1 vote by the OC Board of Supervisors that same day. Many protesters were afraid that the county’s implementation of the vaccine passport system would make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory. 

“That is to pause for now and stop all work on developing a digital record or a QR code as a form of verification for vaccination — that’s it,” said Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do in an interview with Voice of OC.   

According to Do, the decision was made “in order to take this issue off the table, so that way we don’t cause more confusion to residents who may want to get vaccinated.”

Supervisor Katrina Foley was the only vote to oppose the halt of the vaccine passport plans. Foley argued that the program would allow local businesses to work at maximum capacity

“The provision of a voluntary digital vaccination record was an option of the contract between the County and CuraPatient,” Foley said in a statement regarding the May 11 meeting. “The voluntary digital record provision, would have provided a convenient option for individuals, should they need to show proof of vaccination for access to businesses and entertainment venues.”

The May 11 meeting had over 700 sign-ups for public comment. Those who were able to speak expressed a variety of concerns relating to the passport system, with most arguing that the system would be invasive and suppressive of individual freedoms. Concerns were also voiced over a potential implementation of a vaccine mandate on a federal, state and county level.  

“I escaped from communist Poland to seek freedom in this country and definitely I’m against the mandatory digital vaccine passport,” one of the speakers at the meeting said. “I’m saying now that this is discriminatory, against the Constitution and Nuremberg Code. [The] U.S. constitution and the California civil code protects us and our personal rights.” 

Instead of using paper cards, the Board of Supervisors were planning to use digital records or QR codes to verify vaccine administration. The passports would have been used for the convenience of people who would need to show proof upon using entertainment or business services.

Over 1.5 million residents have been fully vaccinated in Orange County as of May 26. Legal guardians of minors 12 years or older can now schedule a vaccination appointment for their child or accompany their child to a walk-in vaccination center. To receive the vaccine, minors must be accompanied by a legal guardian and provide picture ID and proof of age.

As of May 18, Orange County has become eligible to move into the yellow tier, according to the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Orange County has a population of approximately 3.2 million residents and, as of May 30, a 0.7% positive test rate and 1.0% infection rate.

“If at some point in time in the future, we want to take this off of pause and address it. It’s important to educate the public, and again it would still be about personal choice, individual freedom, and something that is voluntary,” Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said

Liliana Huerta is a Staff Writer for the City News section. She can be reached at lshuerta@uci.edu.