“This is a new activity for us, as we don’t typically report this level of detail on this frequency to the federal government,” Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health, said in an email. He added, “We will not be reporting name, ZIP code, race, ethnicity or address.”
Tracking immunizations, including collecting personal data, is not a new practice, and experts say it is especially important with a vaccine that requires two doses. But in the United States, it has been a purely state-by-state effort. A push two decades ago to develop a federal registry imploded after an uproar over patient privacy and how the data would be used.
“The general philosophy in this country is states manage public health, so the concept that federally we are going to be tracking identified information is concerning,” said Dr. Shaun J. Grannis, a professor of medical informatics at Indiana University, who has advised the C.D.C. on data gathering.
“We are 50 different states with a patchwork quilt of regulations and different perspectives on privacy and security,” Dr. Grannis added. “And I think people are going to be asking the question: What does the C.D.C. do that we can’t do regionally?”
But the state registries vary in terms of sophistication and quality. At the briefing on Monday, Col. R.J. Mikesh of the Army, the information technology lead for Operation Warp Speed, said the data gathering was part of a “whole of America approach” to vaccine distribution.
And some experts say that in the thick of a pandemic that has already cost nearly 284,000 lives in the United States, privacy must give way to the greater good of protecting the public, and that vaccinating all Americans is a monumental task that requires federal intervention.
“We’re in a pandemic,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University in Atlanta. “Privacy has its role, but it cannot be what drives decision-making when you’re trying to do a monumental task like vaccinating millions of Americans with a vaccine that requires two doses.”