DES MOINES, Iowa (Tribune News Service) — “That is not normal. That’s not what we do in America,” Iowa state Sen. Jack Whitver declared emphatically on a recent “Iowa Press” TV show.

I was washing dishes and had missed the lead-in, but caught the emotion in his voice.

What unacceptable behavior was the leader of majority Republicans in the Senate denouncing?

Was someone driving on a neighbor’s lawn? Swearing in church? Giving illegal drugs to a child?

I re-wound to get the context.

The senator from Ankeny had been talking about COVID-19 and the hope for achieving herd immunity to get life back to normal.

“I would encourage anyone that is able and willing, to get vaccinated,” he’d said, observing that Iowa had made tremendous progress, with some 23% of people having been fully vaccinated as of then.

So far, so good.

Then Whitver’s tone changed.

“The government is issuing some sort of piece of paper or smartphone app to prove you’ve been vaccinated,” he said indignantly. “We want to get back to normal, but not this new society where you have to show a piece of paper. That is not normal. That’s not what we do in America.”

Accordingly, a bill advancing in Iowa’s legislature would strip local governments and businesses from future state grants and contracts if they require customers or other visitors to prove they are vaccinated for COVID-19.

It would also ban state or local governments from including a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status on an identification card.

Iowa’s Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has called for such a ban, saying, “I believe in the efficacy of the vaccine,” but “I believe that we must take a stand as a state against them, with executive action or through legislation.”

As I write this I’m looking down at the old yellow-paged passport-size booklet that I’ve carted around for 33 years.

It’s called an International Certificate of Vaccination as approved by the World Health Organization and issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

It carries my name, sex and date of birth and has a log of my travel vaccinations since 1988 when my home was in New York state.

There’s typhoid and immune globulin (2-10-88), typhoid, cholera and something else I can’t make out (2-7-89), and the names of the doctors who administered them.

That certificate was replaced by one filled out by the Polk County Health Department in Iowa, with the stamp, Official Vaccination Iowa.

Is this what Whitver and Reynolds are afraid of?

I’ve had one literally since soon after I was born, since my parents crossed continents often.

It let officials in those countries know my vaccines were up to date.

But mostly, I got the vaccines to ward off outbreaks of diseases in the areas we were going to.

Among other things, the certificates served as reminders of which vaccines were due.

We never considered them an imposition.

So which government is Whitver talking about?

None in America.

The federal government has said it will not mandate digital vaccine passports for COVID-19.

In fact, the federal government keeps no centralized database of Americans’ vaccinations.

States do that.

New York is the only one to have developed a free digital health certificate, which verifies someone is fully vaccinated and tested negative; its use is optional.

On the other side, Florida and Texas have used executive orders to ban businesses from requiring vaccination certificates over concerns that they violate privacy.

It’s really businesses that are asking for and requiring that proof, including airlines, cruise lines and sporting event venues, and that’s to keep people safe if they choose to go.

The International Air Transport Association is now testing a travel pass onto which passengers can upload health credentials necessary for international travel.

None of that is government interference.

It’s only necessary if you choose to travel.

And while states have legal authority to legislatively restrict what businesses can do, there’s some question about whether they can do it by executive order.

Like every other state, Iowa does require proof of vaccination for children to attend public schools, as well it should.

And while Iowa’s three public universities require proof of mumps, measles and rubella vaccinations to enroll (with medical or religious exemptions), the Iowa Board of Regents won’t require students or employees at to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend.

Why not?

The private Grinnell College will.

The New York Times reports that Israeli residents are required to show an electronic Green Pass to attend gyms, concerts and indoor restaurants.

Israel plans to require foreign visitors to take a blood test upon arrival, to be replaced with vaccine certificates once available.

The European Union has endorsed the idea of an electronic vaccine certificate, though European countries can choose for themselves.

Just as people suspicious of government mandates recoiled at the idea of mandatory masks, some are now jumping on the vaccine reporting techniques to stir up fears about an invasion of privacy.

It’s worth emphasizing that both Whitver and Reynolds encourage Iowans to get vaccinated.

Reynolds, though, has done so herself, while Whitver hasn’t.

Asked about it on TV, he said he thought more vulnerable populations should get it first.

Everyone is free to make their own health choices, but Reynolds’s leadership by example is more compelling advocacy than mere encouragement of an act to benefit public health.

Further, it’s both misleading and harmful to suggest that the federal government is forcing anything like vaccine passports on Americans.

Former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, a Republican from Texas, tweeted of such documentation, “Accepting them means accepting the false idea that government owns your life, body and freedom.”

Wow.

Maybe pointing out that the issue is not about government but instead about private businesses wouldn’t serve the political agenda and could alienate industries in Republican politicians’ bases.

But distorting the truth shouldn’t be what we do in America, either.

Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send emails to rbasu@dmreg.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency. © 2021 Des Moines Register.

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