In this opinion piece, Robert Field argues that the market, not state laws, should determine whether businesses can require proof of vaccination by customers and staff.

Field holds a joint appointment as professor of law and professor of health management and policy at Drexel University and is an adjunct senior fellow of Penn’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. (This article was originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

“No shoes, no shirt, no service.” You’ve almost certainly seen those words on a sign outside a store near a beach on a summer day. How about – “no vaccination, no verification, no visit”? Might we soon start to see words like those?

The CDC says you can now go shopping without a mask if you have been vaccinated. Several large retailers, including Walmart, Target and Costco, have dropped mask requirements in response. How do they know you’ve been vaccinated if you walk in maskless? You are on your honor.

Other businesses may wish to be more cautious, for example health clubs and smaller specialty shops where customers interact closely with staff. They may prefer something stronger than the honor system, and many of their potential customers may feel the same way.

A growing number of private organizations have started down that path. More than 100 colleges will require students to be vaccinated before they can return in the fall. All cruise lines are doing so, as well, and some airlines are considering following suit. There is too much risk in those settings to just take customers’ words for it.

Several countries are developing systems for verifying vaccination. Green Passes in Israel are required to attend concerts and sports events. The European Union is considering a verification system, as are several countries including Denmark, China and Japan. New York State is developing an app called Excelsior Pass that stores records of vaccination. All of these systems also provide for documentation of recovery from Covid or a recent negative test result.

In the United States, a national system is unlikely. It could be a logistical nightmare and raise significant privacy concerns. However, cautious storeowners could ask that unmasked customers at least produce a CDC card recording their vaccination. This is not too big a step from demanding that customers cover their bare chests and feet when they wander in from their beach towel. The virus droplets that unvaccinated customers may unwittingly exhale are surely more of a health risk than the sand and seawater that semi-clothed customers may unwittingly shed.

You don’t have a right to insist on entering a private business regardless of your state of hygiene. To the contrary, businesses have a legitimate interest in making their premises as sanitary as possible. If a customer can’t bear the thought of walking back to their beach towel to retrieve neglected apparel, they can try another store. A customer who won’t produce either evidence of vaccination or a mask can do the same.

Hygiene-minded businesses may find that by appealing to the safety conscious, they attract more customers. If, on the other hand, they find that their policies are driving away business, they can reevaluate them. That’s the market at work.

“If the public doesn’t want businesses to require evidence of vaccination, the market will speak.”

A number of states, including Arizona, Florida, Iowa and Texas, have enacted or are considering laws to override the market and prohibit private businesses from requiring evidence of vaccination, regardless of what they or their customers want. Those laws replace the freedom of private businesses and individuals to decide how safe they want to be with the command of politicians. If the public doesn’t want businesses to require evidence of vaccination, the market will speak. There is no need for politicians to preempt it.

As Covid case counts fall further, verification of vaccination will hopefully fade as a concern. In the meantime, those who want to make themselves and those around them as safe as possible should have the freedom to do so.