Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas on Monday issued a broad executive order that bars virtually any vaccine mandate in the state.
Abbott, a Republican, has been among the most vocal political leaders in the United States opposing vaccine mandates. His latest executive order includes private employers, which had been exempt from previous edicts against the mandates.
“No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19,” the order states. “I hereby suspend all relevant statutes to the extent necessary to enforce this prohibition.”
The order acknowledges that “vaccines are strongly encouraged for those eligible to receive one, but must always be voluntary for Texans.”
The order ratchets up an already deeply polarizing debate. On one side is President Joe Biden, who has mandated shots for health care workers, federal contractors and the vast majority of federal workers. Biden is also calling for more companies to mandate vaccines as a significant portion of the American population remains unvaccinated. As of Friday, 66% of those eligible (ages 12 and up) in the United States have been fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.
The Republican governors of Texas, Florida and other states are fiercely opposed to any measures that would require vaccines and masks, saying they infringe on personal liberties. Their bans on mandates have been making their way through the courts for months.
A Texas hospital, Houston Methodist, became one of the first large health care facilities in the country to enforce a vaccine mandate in June, when over 150 staff members were fired or resigned.
Facebook and Google, which maintain significant campuses in Texas, had said before Monday’s order that they would require proof of vaccination for employees to return to their offices.
American Airlines, based in Fort Worth, announced Friday that more than 100,000 U.S.-based employees must get vaccinated.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.