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These fact checks of North Carolina politics are a collaboration between PolitiFact and WRAL. You can hear them Wednesdays on WFAE's Morning Edition.

Fact Check: Does Gov. Cooper Have Plans For NC Vaccine Passports?

Cooper presser 030221 flickr ncdps.jpg
N.C. Department of Public Safety
Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at a March 2, 2021, news conference about COVID-19.

Republican lawmakers are concerned that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper will require a vaccine passport. Last month, six members of the state’s Republican congressional delegation sent a letter to the governor saying such a requirement would be a violation of resident’s constitutional rights. They sent this letter following what they said were “recent discussions” to create a vaccine passport in North Carolina. U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop also noted in a tweet that Cooper “hasn’t rejected” the vaccine passport idea.

WRAL's Paul Specht joins us to assess Bishop's claim.

Marshall Terry: First, Paul, what exactly is a vaccine passport? And why do these six Republican members of Congress — Bishop, Richard Hudson, Ted Budd, Virginia Foxx, Greg Murphy and Madison Cawthorn — see it as a government overreach?

Paul Specht: Essentially, it is any record of someone's vaccination history, and some companies and then some states sort of use that record as sort of an access point, something that you need to access, you know, a sporting event or a play. New York is using this in some ways like that. At its root level, it just refers to a record. But then either the state or the private sector can ask for that record, and it can then be used sort of like a passport, like someone shows to go from country to country.

And when we look at the Republicans' letter, there are lots of references to a mandate or requirement for vaccines or people to participate in this vaccine passport program. They said in their letter that they're afraid either the state or individual businesses — people in the private sector — will infringe on people's individual rights. And so, you can imagine how this might play out in the real world if someone tries to go to a restaurant or an event venue or whatever, and a teller or whoever asks them, "Have you been vaccinated?" Some people may just be reluctant to pull that up on their phone, whether that verification is on an app, or pull out their card that they got when they got vaccinated. Some people see that as personal, and obviously, Republicans are always a little skeptical of government overreach in that regard.

Terry: Is this purely a Republican concern?

Specht: When you Google this issue, you'll mostly see Republican voices speaking out about it. But I'm sure that you could find people who aren't Republicans who are also concerned just about how this might play out. For instance, at Duke University, they're requiring students to get the COVID vaccine before they return to campus this fall. And so, I'm sure if you looked, you might find someone on either side of the aisle who'd be a little concerned just about people setting conditions for returning to normal life in that way.

Terry: Was Bishop right when he said that Cooper hasn't rejected the vaccine passport idea?

Specht: We had trouble putting a rating on this or saying that he's right or not right because the word "vaccine passport" is very new. And so people might not know what he means by that. But he's right in that Cooper is not ruling out creating a system where people can access their COVID vaccine records to show it to someone when they're out and about, sort of like an app. So, no, Cooper has not ruled that out. He, in fact, is pursuing that. And he mentioned that in his press conference last week. However, the other side of that coin is Cooper has not said that he will mandate vaccines, and we could find no proof that he's going to require or mandate anyone participate in this program.

Terry: As you said, you haven't found any indication that he's going to require a vaccine passport, so why doesn't he just come out and clearly say, "Hey, we're not going to require it?"

Specht: Well, that's a good question. You know, it's still in development, and so maybe there are still details to be ironed out. He did mention at his press conference last week that he expects people in the private sector — some people at least — will want to see some sort of record like this. And we don't know what that looks like yet, whether it's restaurants or just any given business or shop that you might want to go to or maybe an event venue. So, we're still waiting to see the details on that and who exactly is going to be asking for it

Terry: Right now is when I normally ask you, "How did you rate this claim?" But in this case, you didn't assign a rating to Dan Bishop's tweet. Why is that?

Specht: Well, that's because we haven't seen the details of Cooper's plan yet. He says they're still working on it and they're not ready to launch anything yet. And so, because of that, we thought we would more so clarify what we do know about something that might happen in the future. And when you step back and look at how much is still yet to happen, we felt it might be a little too early to put a rating on Bishop's specific tweet.

Now, you know, the argument might change if they launch this app, if they launch this passport system. Even if Cooper does not require vaccines and even if Cooper does not require anyone to participate in, say, an app or a passport program, when that responsibility shifts to private businesses, we may still see pushback, because people don't want to have to show medical records to anyone. They feel like it's their individual right to keep that stuff private. My assumption would be we're going to see pushback even if Cooper does not attach any sort of government requirement to his plans.

Terry: All right, Paul, thank you.

Specht: Thank you.

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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.