“This is a new activity for us because we don’t typically report this level of detail to the federal government at this frequency,” Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health, said in an email. He added, “We will not provide a name, zip code, race, ethnicity or address.”
Tracking vaccinations, including collecting personal information, is not a new practice, and experts say this is especially important with a vaccine that requires two doses. But in the United States, it was a purely state effort. A push two decades ago to develop a federal registry that imploded after an uproar over patient privacy and the use of the data.
“The general philosophy in this country is that states manage public health. Therefore, the concept that we keep track of identified information at the federal level is important,” said Dr. Shaun J. Grannis, professor of medical informatics at Indiana University, who advised the CDC on data collection.
“We are 50 different states with a patchwork of regulations and different perspectives on privacy and security,” added Dr. Grannis added. “And I think people will ask the question: what does the CDC do that we cannot do regionally?”
However, the state registers differ in terms of sophistication and quality. Speaking at Monday’s briefing, Colonel RJ Mikesh of the Army, the information technology director for Operation Warp Speed, said the data collection was part of an “all America approach” to vaccine distribution.
And some experts say that amid a pandemic that has already cost nearly 284,000 lives in the US, privacy must give way to the public good and that vaccinating all Americans is a monumental task that requires federal intervention.
“We’re in a pandemic,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University in Atlanta. “Privacy has its role, but it can’t be what drives decision-making when you’re trying to do a monumental task like vaccinating millions of Americans with one vaccine that requires two doses.”