Distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is ramping up across the United States. In early March, vaccinations reached 2 million shots per day. By the end of the month, more than 16% of the population had been fully vaccinated and nearly 30% had received at least one dose.
The Biden administration has urged states to open vaccinations for everyone 16 and older by May 1. Experts recommend the COVID-19 vaccine for everyone who is medically eligible as 70% to 80% of the country needs to be fully vaccinated to effectively reduce community spread.
The number of people saying they will get a COVID-19 vaccine has been rising—from 55% in February to 62% in March. But if you are still hesitant to get the jab because of privacy concerns, you aren’t alone.
Personal privacy and the COVID-19 vaccine
Science has debunked the myth that authorities can use the vaccine to inject you with a tracking microchip. It simply isn’t possible. But you may still be hesitant to provide personal information — such as your name, address, and birth date — to receive the vaccine.
There are several reasons this information is needed. First, distributors need to ensure eligibility, and there are laws in many states requiring that personal data go into official vaccination registries.
Also, scientists are still measuring the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine in the real world. They need more public health data about who’s been vaccinated, how many of those people have been exposed, and how many have gotten sick.
How private is your data?
Under the law, healthcare providers, including vaccine distributors, have to keep your medical information private. That includes information you submit to get a vaccine.
The good news is that authorities shut down this anomaly quickly, and the publicity around it has led to the resurgence of the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act (PHEPA). This legislation would tighten security and privacy requirements for any organization collecting data related to the COVID-19 crisis.
The PHEPA isn’t law yet, but states are still required to keep your information private. That means they can’t sell it, but they can use it to calculate trends like vaccination and infection rates.
Authorities may also turn to that information if you do get sick. Scientists are scrambling to gather public health data about post-vaccination COVID positivity rates, and vaccination data is an important ingredient.
What about undocumented immigrants?
Data privacy isn’t just about marketing or personal privacy. Many authorities worry that the vaccine registration system will deter many migrants and undocumented immigrants. These individuals are at high risk for COVID-19 because they tend to work in crowded settings and live in close quarters.
Authorities have stated that vaccination data has never been used for immigration enforcement and never will be. But there’s still a fair amount of mistrust in immigrant communities.
Advocates say that clinics need to be able to get around the registration rule. If people don’t trust that their information won’t be used against them, they won’t get vaccinated, no matter how many people reassure them that their data is secure.
So far, there hasn’t been an official response to this call, other than a doubling-down on public health messaging around confidentiality. It’s still a matter of trust in the authorities, who clearly assert that undocumented immigrants can and should get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The bottom line
The laws are clear. If you submit your personal information to register for a COVID-19 vaccine, no one who collects that information can sell it or use it to deport you.
They can and will share at least some of that information with the Centers for Disease Control so that they can more effectively track COVID trends. But depending on your state’s agreement with the federal government, there’s a good chance that data won’t allow anyone to personally identify you.
Your state may use the information you submit to track COVID spread and vaccination rates. That may mean identifying you personally, but there’s no tracing or tracking involved. Authorities don’t know where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or who you’ve seen since you’ve gotten the vaccine unless you tell them.
There’s also no evidence that authorities will use your submitted information to verify your immigration status. That said, if you have any concerns, you should feel free to contact an attorney or your local public health office.