C.D.C request for personal data ahead of vaccinations leads to privacy concerns

Some state officials are wary about collecting identifying data and how it may be used

As the USA prepares to initiate the first round of Covid-19 inoculations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C) has requested that all states collect and submit the personal information of patients receiving the vaccine - to considerable, and immediate, concern from state officials.

The requested information includes patient names, as well as their birthdate, address, and ethnicity - though other details could be necessary, too. As per the C.D.C agreement (currently a draft), the data would be anonymized in a data clearinghouse rather than shared with federal agencies, and any redacted information only accessible to the C.D.C.

The C.D.C also requires states to sign data use agreements that instruct them to submit existing information in registries to the federal government.

However, some states have yet to agree to part with these sensitive details. A number of health officials claim that the data gathered as part of the C.D.C agreement should go no further than the state it was collected in - and not be part of a country-wide registry.

The counterargument posited by U.S Administration officials is that data collection is simply necessary - people traveling across state lines won’t miss their second jab, side effects and negative reactions can be addressed swiftly, and the vaccine’s effectiveness across demographics can be seamlessly tracked. Furthermore, the Admin officials reiterate that identifiable information will not be given over to federal agencies, and that patient records are particularly important for an inoculation where two shots are needed.

Even so, health officials have expressed concern that gathering this information could breach patient confidentiality. With vaccines scheduled imminently, as as the US government pushes to reassert some control over the spread of the virus, a moral quandary has been posed to the nation - is it okay to violate a patient’s privacy in order to combat the Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed almost 286,000 American lives?

Operation Warp Speed, a Government program developed to oversee the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, claims that nearly all states have signed the C.D.C agreement - and that any states currently holding out would sign by the end of the week. It’s hoped that these skeptical states come to see the benefit of harvesting data to assist the government, as it begins the monumental task of vaccinating its citizens.

Ultimately, the states will need to decide for themselves if they agree to the C.D.C request - and just how much information they should submit if they do. New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, expressed concerns that the C.D.C request could be harmful - particularly to undisclosed immigrants wary of sharing personal data with, potentially, the Department of Homeland Security or ICE.

Similarly, Minnesotan officials have declared that they will not be sharing the name, ZIP code, ethnicity, or address of its citizens with the C.D.C, but will instead hand over "de-identified doses-administered data” as soon as mass inoculations begin.

At ProPrivacy, we’ve put together an in-depth report tackling contact tracing apps as a means to combat the spread of Covid-19 - and the potential ramifications for user privacy. Check out our article comparing the privacy implications of contact tracing apps around the world for more information!

Written by: Hannah Hart

Originally hailing from Wales, Hannah Hart graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a 1:1 in Creative Writing, going on to work as an Editor across a number of trade magazines. As a professional writer, Hannah has worked across both digital and print media, and is familiar with collating news pieces, in depth reports and producing by lines for international publications. Otherwise, she can be found pouring over a tarot deck or spending more hours than she'll ever admit playing Final Fantasy 14.

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