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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday issued another executive order cracking down on COVID-19 vaccine mandates — this time banning any entity in Texas, including private businesses, from requiring vaccinations for employees or customers.
Abbott also called on the Legislature to pass a law with the same effect, promising to rescind the executive order once that happened. The Legislature is in this year's third special legislative session, which ends Oct. 19.
"The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, & our best defense against the virus, but should always remain voluntary & never forced," he said in a tweet announcing his latest order.
The order marks a significant reversal after Abbott previously gave private businesses the choice to mandate vaccines for workers. An Abbott spokesperson said in late August that "private businesses don't need government running their business."
For weeks, Abbott has been under pressure from some on his right to go further in prohibiting vaccine requirements, and one of his primary challengers, Don Huffines, celebrated the latest order.
COVID-19 vaccine requirements by government agencies, cities, counties and school districts in Texas were already banned by a previous executive order — which the San Antonio Independent School District is fighting in court. The Legislature also already passed into law a ban on so-called vaccine passports — which would allow businesses to require proof of vaccination from customers.
The latest move appears to be at least partly motivated by President Joe Biden's actions in September that require all employers with more than 100 workers to mandate vaccines for workers or test weekly for the virus. Biden also required all federal government workers and contractors to get vaccinated, leading nearly all the major airlines — including American Airlines and Southwest Airlines headquartered in Texas — to announce they'd abide by the mandate.
"In yet another instance of federal government overreach, the Biden Administration is now bullying many private entities into imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates, causing workforce disruptions that threaten Texas's continued recovery from the COVID-19 disaster," Abbott said in his order.
About 52% of Texans are fully vaccinated. Abbott was vaccinated on TV and has previously advocated for people to get the shot. But in recent months — as the delta variant caused another upswing in cases and hospitalizations — he has concentrated his political capital toward fighting vaccine and mask mandates from local school districts and governments.
Abbott has been navigating a political buzzsaw when it comes to pandemic rules — and his latest move is another concession to critics in his own party. Huffines, the primary opponent, has been calling on the governor to crack down on vaccine mandates issued from private businesses to their employees.
"I am very pleased to see that our campaign has forced Greg Abbott to reverse his position on this important issue," Huffines, a former Dallas state senator, said in a statement Monday evening.
While GOP officials are pushing back against COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the state has allowed other kinds of vaccine mandates in public schools and universities for years.
Texas public schools require K-12 students to get vaccinated for tetanus; polio; measles, mumps and rubella; hepatitis B; chickenpox; meningitis and hepatitis A. College students are required to receive a meningitis vaccination, too. Health care and veterinary students are required to get additional vaccines for rabies, tetanus-diphtheria and hepatitis B.
Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.