Health and business leaders strongly oppose the expanded vaccine exemptions. (iStock | Getty Images)
This story was updated Jan. 24, 2022 at 5 p.m. with additional information from the Department of Health and Human Services and to correct the name of the department’s staff member.
Approximately 790,000 people would risk losing the only record of their COVID-19 vaccination under a bill before lawmakers, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which opposes the legislation.
During the governor’s pandemic Emergency Order 76, anyone who received a COVID-19 vaccine from the state was required to have their name, address, and vaccination record added to the state’s new vaccine registry. The order, which ran from Dec. 11, 2020, to June 11, 2021, temporarily set aside the rule requiring that people be given a chance to opt out when they are vaccinated.
House Bill 1608 seeks to undo that by requiring the vaccination records of those nearly 790,000 people who received their vaccine during the emergency order removed unless they tell the department they want their records to remain.
The department would be required under the bill to try at least three times to reach everyone. After six months the state would be required to remove records of both those who opt out and those who did not respond.
Doing so would eliminate the only medical record of their vaccination, said Anne Marie Mecuri, immunization section chief in the Division of Public Health Services.
During a public hearing Monday before the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee, Rep. Erica Layon, a Derry Republican and committee vice chairwoman, raised the possibility of amending the bill to require the department to make just one attempt to reach people and then keep vaccination records of everyone who did not respond.
And former representative Neal Kurk of Weare suggested two additional amendments. One would remove the vaccination information for all 790,000 people without notice. The other would require the department to launch a massive public awareness campaign giving people a certain amount of time to withdraw their records. Opting out from being included in the registry and withdrawing existing records from the registry must be as easy as mailing a letter or registering a request online, Kurk said. A health care provider’s signature is required on both the opt-out form and the form to withdrawn a vaccine record from the registry.
Mecuri said 20 people who got their vaccines during the state of emergency have asked that their information be removed. Nationally, 5 percent to 10 percent of people opt out of registries.
Mecuri cautioned the committee against passing the bill as proposed for several reasons.
The most important is the elimination of 790,000 people’s single medical record of their COVID-19 immunization if they lose their paper vaccination card. Nearly 31,280 people have already requested a copy of their vaccination record, she said.
And based on outreach for prior initiatives, the department expects just 22 percent of people would respond, either because the state has incorrect contact information or those who got notification suspected a scam.
Next, the process envisioned in the bill would be expensive.
Mecuri said it would cost $6.2 million just to contact all 790,000 people at least three times, $800,000 to send each a letter notifying them they had to opt back into the registry, and another $267,000 in staff time for every 100,000 names removed.
And, the Board of Medicine rules require health providers, which would include the state under the terms of the executive order, to keep a person’s medical records for seven years unless the person asks that they be transferred to another medical provider.
During Monday’s public hearing, Rep. Dennis Acton, a Fremont Republican, asked Mecuri if she understood that people feel it is dangerous for the government to have a record of their vaccination status.
“I think that the failure to keep these records is more hazardous than having the information in (the registry),” she said. “But we also do agree that people should have the responsibility and ownership of having that information. It is their information to have. If they choose to withdraw their information, we would be happy to assist them with that.”
Rep. Melissa Blasek, a Merrimack Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said the automatic inclusion of vaccination records violates a state constitutional right to privacy. “(The rules) explicitly require that they be explicitly…made aware of the choice (to opt out),” she said. “We should apply the same standard to this situation. To say there is an option to withdraw that is not widely known isn’t enough.”
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