By Guy Page
A proposed change in vaccine registry law has two very different legislators expressing the same concern.
In the Vermont House of Representatives, you won’t find two more polar-opposite lawmakers than Burlington Progressive Brian Cina and Northeast Kingdom conservative Republican Vicki Strong.
Strong is a pastor’s wife who is a leader among the House’s pro-life legislators. Cina is the lead sponsor for many Progressive bills and a strong advocate for the LGBTQ legislative agenda. However, both went on the record Wednesday voicing concern after H315, a lengthy, wide-ranging Covid-19 relief bill, passed the House.
The bill says the State may “provide confidential registry information to health care provider networks serving Vermont patients, to the Vermont Health Information Exchange, and, with the approval of the Commissioner, to researchers.”
Not to worry, says Rep. Anne Donahue (R-Northfield), a legislative expert in health care issues including insurance. In an email to Vermont Daily last night, she said “the change in the clause you are referencing adds one thing only: it allows the VT Dept. of Health vaccine registry to share the vaccine information with the Health Information Exchange so that it is available in one location for the person’s providers. There is no change in who has access to it, but it allows the information to be shared in both places.”
Cina and Strong seem less sure about the longterm security and use of personal health information.
In a comment from the (virtual) floor after the vote, Cina said he voted yes, “however, I am very concerned about the use of an appropriations bill to change health care policy regarding sharing personal health information from the vaccine registry. We must be cautious about the sense of urgency regarding the current public health emergency leading to the erosion of the rights and freedoms of the People.”
Strong voted no. “I am still concerned about the data collection and registry language in this bill and am not comfortable at this time to vote yes.” In a follow-up email she added, “ The data collecting and registry information is a concern to me in order to protect people’s medical privacy and also there is always the question of how that data and information could be used and why it would be used. I take the word ‘registry’ very seriously and we should always be cautious about why such a thing needs to be created and what it will be used for. We may have good motives, but that information can be hacked or misused in the wrong hands.”
Strong is leery not only of the vaccine registry changes, but also of H315’s registry for home construction contractors. Proposed as an anti-fraud measure, it’s being praised by climate change activists who see a registry and licensing as a way to require contractors to comply with carbon-reducing ‘green’ building practices and use green-approved materials. Critics say it will add expensive, unnecessary building costs and red tape.
Donahue, however, stands by the right-now need for the vaccine registry changes.
“This has become more important (and was noticed as a concern to be addressed) because with the current COVID vaccine, because people are getting vaccines from all different places. This change makes it easier for the person’s doctor to be able to get accurate information in one place. So, no new registry; no change in confidentiality standards; still only accessible to the same providers; but the VDH registry will be able to communicate with the Health Information Exchange for provider access.”