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New Hampshire weighs removing names from COVID-19 vaccine registry

Republican lawmakers are weighing a proposal that would require New Hampshire to remove data about COVID-19 vaccinations from a state registry.

The legislation would require the state to eliminate the vaccination records of nearly 790,000 Granite Staters who received their shots during an emergency order removed unless they choose to keep the record by “opting in” to the state’s vaccine registry.

“Medical records are some of the most private and personal information that should only be accessed by consent or extraordinary justification,” the bill reads. “The general court finds that the state should not continue to keep the private medical information of individuals that were not afforded the opportunity to choose if they wished it to be collected.”

An executive order signed by Gov. Chris Sununu in 2020 in response to the pandemic required the state to add the name and address of anyone who received a COVID-19 vaccine to the state’s new vaccine registry. The directive, which ended last June, temporarily set aside a state law allowing people the ability to “opt out” when they are vaccinated.

Republican lawmakers who filed the measure told members of the House Committee on Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs on Monday that the bill is aimed at giving people who didn’t want their names and personal information added to the vaccine registry an opportunity to remove them.

State Rep. Melissa Blasek, R-Merrimack, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, told the panel that the inability for citizens to remove their names from the list violates a 2018 voter approved constitutional amendment that enshrined the “right to privacy” in New Hampshire.

“Retaining private data on individuals without their consent implicates the right to privacy articles that the people of New Hampshire approved with 81% in favor,” she said. “This bill tries to find a solution to the problem.”

But the measure is strongly opposed by the state Department of Health and Human Services, which says hundreds of thousands of people would risk losing the only record of their COVID-19 vaccination if the changes are implemented.

Ann Marie Mercuri, the department’s immunization chief, said the proposed legislation would be “problematic” for individuals who need a record of their COVID-19 vaccination.

“If that individual loses their vaccination card it’s the only hard copy of the record,” she told the panel. “They will have no proof of vaccination because they are no longer in the registry.”

Mercuri said the data from the vaccine registry is crucial to the state’s efforts to fight COVID-19 and doing away with it would complicate ongoing efforts to reach vaccine hesitant communities.

Paula Minnehan, with the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said the proposal would cause “chaos” in the state’s public health system.

“From a practical perspective, requiring DHHS to reach out to all these individuals who receive the COVID-19 vaccines during the state of emergency to ask if they want to opt out of the registry is simply impractical and very time consuming, not to mention expensive,” she said. “We should not be expending limited state resources on this effort.”

A fiscal note attached to the bill suggested that the cost for implementing the legislation would range from $1.3 million to $7 million depending on how the state reaches out to vaccinated individuals to inform them about the changes.

For example, reaching the estimated 690,000 individuals at least three times over the six-month period by phone – as the proposal calls for – would be the most expensive method, costing the state about $6.2 million, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Sending a letter to them would cost $810,000 including postage and staffing costs. Contacting individuals by text would cost the state about $30,000 over the six month, which would cover the cost of hiring a vendor, the state agency said.

Nationally, the rate of people opting out of vaccine registries is about 5% to 10%, according to the American Immunization Registry Association.

This article was originally posted on New Hampshire weighs removing names from COVID-19 vaccine registry

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