Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order late Monday prohibiting all state entities, including private businesses, from requiring people to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Republican governor also noted that he has added the issue to the legislature’s special session so that his executive order can become law.
His executive move bucks the vaccination efforts of the Biden administration, which last month announced sweeping mandates that would apply to federal employees, health care workers, and private businesses. The order is also a reversal for Abbott, who had previously steered clear of interfering with the decisions of private businesses. As the Houston Chronicle notes, it was just in August that Abbott’s spokesperson, Renae Eze, said that “private businesses don’t need government running their business.”
But in a statement Monday evening, Abbott flipped his position. “The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus but should remain voluntary and never forced,” he said. Under the executive order, anyone can refuse to be vaccinated for “any reason of personal conscience.”
The change comes amid pressure from political opponents and continued backlash to existing mandates. Abbott is up for re-election next year, and some primary opponents have pushed for bans on vaccine mandates, the Chronicle notes.
Additionally, over the weekend and into Monday, conservative lawmakers blamed Southwest Airlines’ vaccine mandate for the cancellation of more than a thousand flights, which left travelers stranded. Southwest blamed weather and air traffic control problems for the cancellations. A union representing the airlines’ pilots—which is fighting the mandate in court—insisted that the cancellations were not due to a “sick out” in protest of the mandate. Still, that didn’t stop conservative lawmakers, such as Senator Ted Cruz, from blaming President Biden and the airline’s vaccine mandate.
Though Abbott had previously indicated he wouldn’t interfere with private businesses’ decisions on vaccination requirements, he appeared comfortable interfering with local governments and officials. Over the summer, Abbott issued executive orders banning local governments and school districts from issuing mask and vaccine mandates.
Texas has been among the hardest-hit states in the latest delta-variant-fueled wave of the pandemic. According to data-tracking by The New York Times, the state has seen COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths approach record levels since July. Though cases are now on the decline in Texas, more than 4 million people in the state have been infected throughout the pandemic, and more than 68,000 have died. To date, only 52 percent of the state is fully vaccinated.
In August, Abbott tested positive for COVID-19, despite being fully vaccinated. At the time, the delta wave was peaking, Abbott was fighting mask mandates, and the state’s health care systems were being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.