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Is asking about someone’s COVID vaccine status a HIPAA violation?

Coronavirus

A health worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 to inoculate a minor at a vaccination center in Asuncion, on July 23, 2021. – Paraguay started to inoculate children and teenagers from 12 to 17 years-old with underlying diseases. (Photo by NORBERTO DUARTE/AFP via Getty Images)

(NEXSTAR) – From politicians to professional athletes, people in the media spotlight have deflected questions about their COVID-19 vaccine status by – incorrectly – accusing reporters of violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

When Dallas Cowboy’s quarterback Dak Prescott was asked Thursday at a training camp press conference whether or not he was vaccinated, the NFL star said, “I don’t necessarily think that’s exactly important. I think that’s HIPAA.”

During a July 20 news conference held by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia congresswoman responded to a question about her vaccination status by saying, “Your first question is a violation of my HIPAA rights,” adding inaccurately, “You see, with HIPAA rights, we don’t have to reveal our medical records, and that also involves our vaccine records.”

Social media users and political candidates have also spread false claims that the Biden administration’s door-to-door vaccination campaign infringes on the federal health privacy law.

“How about the government stay the heck out of our business!?” Texas Republican congressional candidate Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez wrote in a Facebook post. “What ever happened to PRIVATE health decisions? Seems like giving these door knockers our vaccination status would a HIPPA violation.”

Another Facebook user wrote, “Coming to my door to seek personal medical info is a violation of HIPAA laws & my constitutional rights.”

So how does HIPAA work?

HIPAA was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 during a time when medical records were being computerized. It was created to simplify the administration of health insurance and to prevent unauthorized access to peoples’ medical histories.

In fact, HIPAA doesn’t block anyone from asking another person about their health status, according to Alan Meisel, law professor and bioethics expert at the University of Pittsburgh.

“What it does is prohibit certain health care entities from revealing certain health information about patients,” Meisel told the AP in an email.

If someone does come to your door to encourage you to get the COVID-19 vaccine, you have no obligation to tell them whether you have been vaccinated, said Kayte Spector-Bagdady, lawyer and associate director for the Center for Bioethics and Social Science in Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School.

“HIPAA does not apply to public health outreach volunteers, and it doesn’t apply to information you offer to tell,” Spector-Bagdady said in an email to the AP. “If you are uncomfortable, just don’t open the door – or do and just get some information without giving any in return!”

A ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’

Politicians from both ends of the spectrum are speaking out, hoping to combat misinformation and convince unvaccinated people to protect themselves – and others – from the rapidly spreading delta variant.

“Folks are supposed to have common sense,” Kay Ivey, the Republican governor of Alabama, said Thursday during an event in Birmingham. “But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the vaccinated folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”

Alabama and Mississippi lag behind the rest of the nation with about 34 percent of the population fully vaccinated.

“Let’s be crystal clear about this issue. And media, I want you to start reporting the facts. The new cases of COVID are because of unvaccinated folks,” Gov. Ivey said. “Almost 100% of the new hospitalizations are with unvaccinated folks. And the deaths are certainly occurring with the unvaccinated folks. These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain.”

CDC statistics show that more than 99% of people who die from COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Of those people who are hospitalized from the virus, 97% haven’t had the shot.

“Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated,” Biden said last Friday.

White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said Thursday that three states – Florida, Texas and Missouri – made up 40 percent of new cases last week.

“For the second week in a row, one in five of all cases occurring in Florida alone. And within communities, these cases are primarily among unvaccinated people,” Zients said.

On Thursday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky called the delta variant “one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of, and that I have seen in my 20-year career.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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