As of mid-May, nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, and over half of adults have received at least one dose. This has sparked debate over whether public health restrictions should be relaxed specifically for vaccinated individuals — a prospect that outrages anti-vaccine activists.
In fact, many of them have been promoting a new claim: that asking people for their vaccine status in the first place would be illegal under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and a violation of their civil rights. This has even been promoted by lawmakers like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who tweeted, "Vax records, along with ALL medical records are private due to HIPPA [sic] rights."
Unfortunately for them, wrote Allyson Chiu for The Washington Post on Saturday, this is simply false.
"The law ... only applies to specific health-related entities, such as insurance providers, health-care clearinghouses, health-care providers and their business associates," wrote Chiu. "That means that even if your friend, favorite restaurant or grocery store were to publicly share private details about your health, they would not be in violation of HIPAA because they aren't one of the 'covered entities' ... And, experts emphasized, there is nothing in HIPAA that bars asking people about their health — including vaccination status — or requiring proof that the information is accurate."
HIPAA does prohibit doctors from sharing your vaccine records to third parties without your consent. And at the state level, there are some privacy laws, including some passed by Republican lawmakers and governors specifically in response to COVID, that prohibit government entities or certain businesses from requiring "vaccine passports."
However, Chiu noted, "Under federal laws, there are very few, if any, situations in which businesses, airlines, employers, schools and even those covered by HIPAA are prohibited from asking you to share your vaccination status or show your vaccine record card, experts said" — although it is unclear how effective the enforcement will be. You can legally decline to answer, but businesses are also free, in most circumstances, to deny service or employers to deny work in that situation.
You can read more here.