KOOTENAI COUNTY, Idaho — Governor Brad Little signed an executive order Wednesday banning all state governmental entities from requiring "vaccine passports," which are proof of COVID-19 vaccination for citizens to receive public services or access facilities.
Since the pandemic began, Little showed the rest of the country that Idaho was hands-off in addressing pandemic safety concerns. Phase 1 of reopening didn't have a mask mandate, gatherings were discouraged but not prohibited and places of worship remained open.
"Well we're quite proud of our position, Idaho is the least regulated state in the nation," he said in an interview with KREM 2's Morgan Trau. "We had one of the least restrictions to begin with, and then we opened up one of the fastest."
Little banned vaccine passports because he is a huge believer in individual freedom, he said.
"The combination of individuals and businesses being able to do what they need to do to be profitable and sustain their families, is what we're all about in Idaho," he added in the interview. "We want to continue in that vein."
Idahoans should be given the choice to receive the vaccine, he said.
"We should not violate Idahoans’ personal freedoms by requiring them to receive it,” Little said in his press conference Wednesday. “Vaccine passports create different classes of citizens. Vaccine passports restrict the free flow of commerce during a time when life and the economy are returning to normal. Vaccine passports threaten individual freedom and patient privacy.”
The governor also believed asking for proof of vaccination may actually curb the current vaccine speed.
"We are getting people vaccinated and the noise of a potential vaccine passport just slows that down," he added. "People will continue to do the right thing, we're gonna continue to get vaccinated and then we'll continue on the trajectory we have of the fastest momentum of any state.
His reference to fast momentum is their reopening speed, not their vaccination speed. Only 29% of Idaho has had at least one COVID-19 vaccination, falling in the top five least vaccinated states, according to the CDC. The remaining four are Tennessee (28%), Georgia (28%), Alabama (27%) and Mississippi (27%).
Residents 16 and older are eligible for the vaccine, but scheduling websites show countless appointments aren't getting filled every day. The Panhandle Health District and Kootenai Health both opened up eligibility early due to a decline in interest for the vaccine.
"I believe, if you put the facts out there and make things available about how efficient and effective and safe this vaccine is, that people choose to do the right thing to protect themselves, their families, their communities and their places of work," he said. "That has been working for us and that's what we're going to continue to do in Idaho, give people that personal choice."
The state will continue working off the honor system. Other states such as Florida and Texas have banned passports for businesses as well, but Little says he can't anticipate himself extending the order.