There seems to be a disconnect between House GOP members who voted to pass the bill and those who did not regarding what the legislation would actually accomplish. Among the “no” votes, some lawmakers view H.B. 550 as a chance for the federal government to grossly expand its power. Among the “yes” votes, the bill would do the opposite, and, in fact, protect states from federal government overreach in public health, according to a source affiliated with the bill's development.
Breitbart News previously reported that the bill could assist in the creation of a federal vaccination database, a concern aired by Rep. Mary Miller (R-IL), who voted “no” and told Breitbart News exclusively that the bill is “clearly a legislative tool to enforce vaccine mandates and force their Orwellian rules onto those who do not comply.”
On Wednesday, Breitbart News reached out to the offices of the four Republican bill cosponsors — Reps. Larry Bucshon (R-IN), James Baird (R-IN), David McKinley (R-WV), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) — as well as four representatives who voted “yes” on the bill. None of the cosponsors replied by the time of publication, but Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) and the spokesman of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) exclusively provided insight into the representatives' reasons for passing the bill.
But First…Some Background
According to the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH), the government would provide $400 million in taxpayer dollars to fund “immunization system data modernization and expansion.” An immunization information system (IIS) is defined as a “confidential, population-based, computerized database that records immunization doses administered by any health care providers to persons within the geographic area covered by that database.”
IISs have been around for decades, operate in all 50 states, and “help providers and families by consolidating immunization information into one reliable source.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that it does not possess personal vaccine information — only state IISs do. According to the CDC, IISs provide “aggregate data on vaccinations for use in surveillance and program operations, and in guiding public health action with the goals of improving vaccination rates and reducing vaccine-preventable disease.”
Vaccination information from these systems is also meant to be kept secure and “only be used for its intended purpose and not be used in a punitive manner,” the CDC states. These systems are also already capable of exchanging information with immunization healthcare providers and other information systems, and currently “remind families when an immunization is due or has been missed.”
The legislation would “[expand] CDC and Public Health Department Capabilities,” include the federal government in data exchanges, and allow the Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary to award grants to health departments that enhance their IIS and adopt the CDC's immunization information system functional standards and security standards. The government would be able to develop “public-private partnerships” to help with “technical assistance, training, and related implementation support.”
According to the bill, the HHS secretary would help departments by:
improving the secure bidirectional exchange of immunization record data among Federal, State, local, Tribal, and territorial governmental entities and non-governmental entities … by improving such exchange among public health officials in multiple jurisdictions within a State … by simplifying and supporting electronic reporting by any health care provider … supporting the standardization of immunization information systems to accelerate interoperability with health information technology. [emphasis added]
In Breitbart News's previous report, Miller contended that the “bill would allow the government to collect, study, and share your private health data. There are endless ways the government could potentially use that information against you — purposefully and accidentally.”
In a statement, Kuster proudly touted that the bill “will improve and expand information-sharing between state and federal governments, as well as public and private health care providers, to ensure vaccines are being administered effectively and efficiently across all states and territories.” Kuster specifically said the bill would bolster the country's “vaccine infrastructure” and “prepare our health care system for future public health crises.”
An internal memo from Bucshon's office to Republican legislative staff, obtained by Breitbart News, framed H.B. 550 as a bill that would “improve and enhance” the ability of IIS programs to “securely exchange real-time immunization record data between state, local, tribal, and territorial public health programs and providers across health care settings in the immunization neighborhood–all while enhancing the security of the confidential, population-based databases.” [emphasis added]
The memo did not mention that the federal government would be a part of that exchange, unlike the actual text of the legislation. The memo mostly focused on how the bill would bolster security of personal health data in state IIS programs, whereas Kuster's statement emphasized increased information sharing between state and federal jurisdictions.
Burgess told Breitbart News he voted “yes” because the bill “seeks to fortify the security for existing confidential STATE database systems” — he did not mention how the federal government could play a role in data sharing.
“Also, it establishes guardrails to ensure that American tax dollars are going to modernizing these confidential systems and NOT to enforcing vaccine mandates,” he said, contrary to Miller's concerns.
When Breitbart News asked Burgess if the federal government could use the updated system as a “tool to target unvaccinated Americans,” he said “no.”
“It will simply safeguard the existing state level database systems and ensure that information remains confidential and kept private,” he said.
Burgess also claimed the bill would not enable a “personal tracking system” and “establishes guardrails that make it unconstitutional for the Biden Administration to track any American's vaccine status,” which is directly at odds with what Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) told Breitbart News about the bill. Donalds was one of 130 Republicans to vote against the bill.
“This legislation would unnecessarily appropriate millions of taxpayer funds intended to expand bureaucracy in Washington. A database solely created to record and collect confidential vaccination information of Americans explicitly encroaches upon individuals' fundamental right to medical privacy,” Donalds said. “As a fiscal conservative, I cannot in good faith support legislation that contributes to the Democrats' habitual pattern of reckless and wasteful spending and the intrusive heavy hand of government.”
The spokesman for McCarthy, Mark Bednar, established a similar motive to Burgess for the House minority leader's decision to vote for the bill, saying it “codifies privacy protections for the American people in existing immunization systems that were previously not in place.”
Immunization systems exist in most all states in order to deal with infectious disease outbreaks (like the measles outbreak in 2019) and because parents broadly support vaccines for kids for disease like measles and smallpox. This bill does not create any new system or spend any new money, but it does ensure that immunization data is de-identifiable and confidential.
Like any piece of enacted legislation, the privacy protections must be closely monitored to ensure it is not being abused or misused, but absent this legislation those protections would not even exist.
Miller previously argued that HHS cannot be trusted with more power.
“The government has become so large, you cannot expect them to keep anything private anymore. There is hardly any congressional oversight into studies these agencies conduct,” she said.
Ashley Oliver contributed to this report.
Katherine Hamilton is a political reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow her on Twitter.