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Lawmakers Surprised By Outcry Against Bipartisan Bill To ‘Expand’ Vaccine Surveillance


A bill that passed the House last week to “expand” and connect state vaccine registries faced swift blowback from constituents of the 80 Republicans and 214 Democrats who voted for the bill. H.R. 550 is now in the Senate after going straight to a vote with no hearing in the House under a common suspension of rules for bills expected to face little opposition.

If passed, the bill would have federal health agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control “award grants” to state and local health departments to “improv[e] the secure bidirectional exchange of immunization record data among Federal, State, local, Tribal, and territorial governmental entities and non-governmental entities.” The bill would also pay local governments to further “real-time immunization record data exchange and reporting, to support rapid identification of immunization coverage gaps.”

Tucker Carlson helped fan fury over the bill by featuring on his show last week a Republican primary candidate in Washington state who has made it a feature of his campaign.

“Eighty Republicans just voted with Democrats to pass a bill to fund a government vaccine database,” Carlson said. “Think we need that? If the law passes, it would expand the CDC’s powers. Think we need that? They’re now an intel agency. And the database would be used among other things to remind patients when they were due for a recommended vaccine.”

Republican constituents did “light up” representatives over the issue. Rep. Kat Cammack, a Florida Republican, posted a Facebook Live video Monday responding to constituent concerns about the bill and explaining why she was one of 130 Republicans to vote against it even though all present House Democrats and 80 Republicans voted for it.

“Every state already has a database, a vaccine database… What we don’t need is a federal entity coming in and tapping into the state databases,” Cammack said.

“When anything is expanding the size and scope of the government, I already have an immediate pause on why we should be doing that,” she said later in the video. “And when it comes to the CDC and what’s been happening with these [COVID] mandates, I am about as anti-mandate as you can get, so I certainly wasn’t going to do that.”

The bill’s subheading summarizes the legislation as “Expanding CDC And Public Health Department Capabilities.”

Cammack also noted it appears Democrat House leaders may be putting bills into the easy-pass suspension mode that bypasses committee hearings. She also said she wouldn’t criticize fellow Republicans over their votes for the bill to avoid giving Democrats political ammunition.

This week, Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw defended his vote for H.R. 550 on social media, saying in an Instagram video that “that particular bill, which is Republican-led, actually makes it harder to track vaccine information on an individual level. It actually decreases the amount of money that was originally allocated for these systems by the Biden administration.”

“We’re worried about these authoritarian blue-state governors that indeed do want to track your data and do want to employ vaccine mandates and passports and such,” Crenshaw says in the video. “And so there was a Republican-led effort for this exact provision, to decrease the funding for it and ensure that if states take that money they have to make the data anonymous and only collect it at the population level so you can’t be tracked.”

The bill text states, at the end: “In this section, the term ‘immunization information system’ means a confidential, population-based, computerized database that records immunization doses administered by any health care provider to persons within the geographic area covered by that database.”

H.R. 550 places new parameters on federal grants authorized in the March 2020 CARES Act, and cut the $500 million CARES authorized to $400 million. The CARES Act was passed unanimously in the Senate and by 419-6 in the House.

So, regardless of whether this bill passes, federal agencies would have hundreds of millions to expand and connect state vaccine databases. States also would maintain their existing vaccine databases, and the CDC would continue to shape those databases through the grants defined in H.R. 550, called the Epidemiology and Lab Capacity grant program.

That’s cold comfort to Americans deeply concerned about the possibility of governments and private entities using medical records for political ends such as vaccine passports, which are already required in U.S. locales such as New York and Los Angeles. Amid Covid weaponization, people’s private medical decisions have been used to deny them employment, education, and health care.

“Given what’s happening across the country, the idea of building a surveillance system that is stronger to conduct surveillance on the vaccination status on the American people is very disturbing,” said Twila Brase, president of the Citizen’s Council for Health Freedom, in a phone interview. “The Senate should definitely refuse to pass the bill or, alternatively, they could require consent [from individuals] for incoming and outgoing collection of vaccination information. By consent, I mean informed, voluntary, written permission before any data can be gathered or transferred.”

Bill proponents such as Crenshaw say vaccine mandates don’t rely on these databases and that all data collected in these federally interconnected databases will be subject to existing federal privacy laws. But those laws are riddled with loopholes because many government and private interests consider personal data highly lucrative and useful. For example, federal health privacy laws allow more than 2.2 million entities, many private, to access personal health records, often without the consent of or even notice to the people to whom the records belong.

In addition, collecting data at the “population level” and making it “anonymous” offers essentially no actual identity protections because data that is technically anonymized is relatively easy for researchers to re-match with individuals’ identities using public or commercially available information. Researchers have used everything from Netflix usernames to apps to attach private data to the specific people it came from by simply matching one database to another. De-anonymizing data this way comprises an entire industry.

That’s likely how private entities that amass medical data, such as the eHealth Exchange, match patients’ records across databases, effectively working around a federal ban on a national medical ID that would connect every American’s health records to a unique number. An appropriations bill currently moving through Congress would eliminate the ban and establish such an ID, which “would open the floodgates for a government-issued ID to be linked with the private medical history of every man, woman, and child in America,” notes a Nov. 2 press release from Sen. Rand Paul.

The government’s record of protecting Americans’ intimate medical data from hackers and foreign governments is also extremely poor. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for example, lists 844 major data breaches compromising tens of thousands of Americans’ legally protected health information in just the past two years.

H.R. 550 would make the government collection of private medical data more efficient and interconnected. The bill tells the CDC that its grants to smaller health agencies should be used to help them “improve and increase consistency in patient matching, data collection, reporting, bidirectional exchange, and analysis of immunization-related information.”

It also gives the U.S. secretary of health and human services the power to detail to state and local health departments what they must do to receive these federal grants. This essentially gives Congress’s legislative authority away to unelected bureaucrats who have repeatedly proven to abuse their powers and defy Americans’ express wishes, said Emmett McGroarty, a constitutional scholar at the Catholic University of America, in an interview.

During the COVID outbreak, these leaders and staff of the health agencies controlling intimate details of Americans’ lives have proven themselves to be deeply corrupt and hostage to political interests. They have manipulated and distorted key medical data.

These agencies receiving routine funding to expand their activities have been international outliers in ignoring the scientific evidence accepted and acted on by peer nations that shows, for example, that children can safely attend school in person and that people who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection have more robust immunity than those protected by vaccination. Their failures have cost American lives. They should get a house cleaning, not routine funding.

That may not be on the table right now. But will it be if Republicans earn more legislative power? If Republicans retake the House in 2022, as expected, most of their members still will have voted for this program through the CARES Act or H.R. 550.