By Guy Page
The State of Vermont can’t release vaxxed vs. unvaxxed death/hospitalization data because it might violate HIPAA health care privacy laws, the Vermont Department of Health Covid-19 Public Inquiries Team told a vaccine freedom advocate.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.
None of the Vermont Department of Health publicly-available information mentions patients’ names or hometowns. It identifies them by age and medical conditions.
The email conversation between Health Choice Vermont Executive Director Jennifer Stella and a member of the VDH Covid-19 Public Inquiries Team began Feb. 15 with this inquiry from Stella:
“Why is the state not reporting cases, hospitalizations and deaths based on treated v. untreated groups, as it vaxxed 1-2-3-4 doses versus untreated 0 doses? This would help all of us see if the vaccine is working, or not,” Stella wrote.
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To better understand the answer Stella received, some history is helpful. In late summer and early fall, more vaccinated Vermonters died of Covid-19 than unvaccinated Vermonters, according to data provided by the Dept. of Health. As reported by Vermont Daily Chronicle, these numbers reflected Vermont’s high vaccination rate. Although the numerical death totals showed more vaccinated Vermonters dying, the death rate was higher among the unvaccinated because vaccinated Vermonters outnumbered the unvaccinated by about 4-1.
Nevertheless, shortly after a spate of media reports about vaxxed/unvaxxed deaths (including VDC’s) made national news, VT Dept. of Health stopped providing specific death totals. Instead, its weekly updates showed only the higher rate of unvaccinated deaths. After many requests for death totals, VDH told VDC this information would not be provided.
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A week after Stella’s request, she received this response from the Covid team:
“The Vermont Department of Health does indeed collect and analyze data on the vaccination status of cases/hospitalizations/deaths. However, due to the small size of our state, we do not make that data available to the general public because doing so could possibly reveal the identity of individual people, thus violating their right to privacy. [Italics added.]
“In addition, our source of case data has changed. Early in the pandemic, the majority of testing was conducted at state-run test sites using the PCR test and our Vaccine and Testing Registry system. This enabled the Vermont Department of Health to gather and publish highly accurate data regarding the number of COVID-19 cases, including statistics on the vaccination status of cases. However, in recent months, rapid antigen tests have become widely available and now constitutes a majority of the testing that is done in the state. Although we request that at-home test results be reported to the Health Department, we have no way of enforcing that. As a result, it has become more difficult to gather and publish accurate data on the overall numbers of cases.
“In the course of the past nearly two years, a substantial body of evidence has been gathered worldwide the demonstrates the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in reducing severe illness resulting in hospitalization, or death from the disease. When it comes to determining whether COVID-19 vaccines are “working”, it is important to remember that the vaccines were granted FDA Emergency Use Authorization or approval based in part on their effectiveness in preventing those two outcomes. The vaccine manufacturers did not claim that their product(s) could or would prevent infection altogether. Early on, the vaccines actually did do a good job of preventing infection from the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and early variants such as alpha and beta. However, due to the greater transmissibility of the delta and omicron variants, there have been more cases in Vermont among people who were vaccinated but fortunately, most of those cases have been asymptomatic or had only mild to moderate symptoms.”