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Lawmakers Debate Vaccine Reporting Requirement

Legislation progressing through the state Senate would codify an adult vaccine reporting requirement expanded by one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive orders.

Chapter 420 of the laws of 2014 states health care providers may report all adult immunization to the immunization registries of the state and New York City health departments. S.75, which was passed Tuesday by the Senate Health Committee by a 10-5 vote, would require health providers to report the vaccine dose to the immunization registries. Such reporting requirements already exist for children as they are given childhood vaccinations.

“First of all vaccines are safe, effective and necessary,” said Sen. Gustavo Rivera, D-Bronx and Health Committee chairman. “I know there has been a lot of misinformation floating around this particular bill. The length of this bill is one page – less than one page. There is an allegation there is going to be some sort of information system created, some weird special information is going to be created with this data. I’ll have you know that there already in the state of New York are regional health networks all across the state because sharing medical data. This is actually a way to make our system more effective to deliver better care, to do it in a less expensive way. I will remind everyone that these systems, which again already exist, exist behind thick walls of privacy both at the federal and state level.”

The legislation was approved in a party line vote. Republicans made two arguments against it — that the state shouldn’t be trusted to safeguard anyone’s information given what has happened with people’s information in the unemployment system and that such a provision may scare away some who would otherwise have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine.

“In light of what I’ve witnessed and I think what some of my constituents have witnessed the monumental failures of the state IT system, especially over this past year concerning the unemployment system and the vaccine signups,” said Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Oneonta. “I cannot support a measure that puts personal health information at risk. I think people have a legitimate privacy concern. I don’t feel that an Albany databank is a place where these health records really should be stored. I think if we had a little better track record, I would feel a little bit more comfortable with this. For me I’ll be standing up for privacy and the personal choice on these issues.”

The legislation has had a lengthy shelf life in the state Senate, being introduced three times in previous legislative sessions and never progressing out of the Health Committee. Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-New York City, said the information is necessary for public health officials to know where to direct education efforts about COVID-19 vaccines.

“This is really a matter of life and death if we don’t get this information into public health officials’ hands.,” Hoylman said. “This is not about consent or personal freedoms. This is about making certain that everyone is protected from this ravaging pandemic. There is a lot at stake here. I hope our colleagues consider that when they vote.”

Rivera and Hoylman both said it is important to educate those who are vaccine hesitant, with Rivera saying he has gone with public health officials into under-vaccinated areas of the Bronx to try to educate city residents who have concerns about the vaccine.

Sen. Phil Boyle, R-Bay Shore, said he is afraid the vaccine reporting requirement will be counterproductive by leading to more wariness among those who are already distrustful of COVID-19 vaccines in general and state government particularly.

“Again, we saw this week, and getting back to what my colleague Sen. Oberacker said about the situation, this week we saw a huge hack on a national level from a foreign agent,” Boyle said. “So nothing is safe, even in the Pentagon in the bowels of whatever agency, it’s never truly safe. What I think my colleagues may not understand is the deep distrust of government that a large percentage of New Yorkers and Americans have. It’s unfortunate, but they do. The reason I say this may be counterproductive is my phones have been lighting up over the past few days with hundreds and hundreds of calls opposing this and so what I believe is we’re trying to get the highest percentage vaccination rate possible, to get to 70% or whatever the herd immunity is, we seem to be getting slowed down at 60%.”

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