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Bill To Include K-12, College Students In DOH Vaccination Registry Cruising Through House, Senate

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo

A measure moving through Florida’s House and Senate looks to add student immunization records to the Department of Health’s existing database. Amendments to the bill would let parents opt out of being listed on the registry, but critics are still skeptical on whether their privacy is protected.

Under the bill, certain school staff would have access to the Department of Health’s vaccination database. The House bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo, says that’s in the interest of verifying students are compliant with state vaccination requirements.

“House Bill 213, immunization registry, requires all personnel who administer vaccines to K-12,” Massullo said. “College or university students to enter the information into the existing and secure, HIPA-compliant registry run by the Department of Health, currently called Florida Shots.”

The way the bill was originally written, if parents opted out the registry their election to do so would be noted in the database. An amendment adopted in both versions of the measure changes that. Even if parents do get their child vaccinated, they can opt out as well. And, as Representative Cary Pigman explains, schools must still keep record of student shots.

“The school would have a paper copy of your status, whether you’ve deferred and chose not to participate in the database, or whether your child received immunization, but you don’t want to have it reported on the database,” Pigman said. “So, the school is required to have documentation.”

Massullo, who is a practicing physician, says it’s not just about keeping detailed records. The registry would pinpoint who should be quarantined should an outbreak occur.

“It is actually two things – it’s a convenience and efficiency bill. But it’s also a mechanism by which, if there is an outbreak of any communicable or contagious disease in our state, we would be able to ascertain quickly – to a large extent, hopefully there wouldn’t be many people opting out – who would need to be quarantined,” Massullo said.

Mackenzie Frazer is co-founder of Health Freedom Florida, a group that advocates for vaccine choice. She was at the House’s Health and Human Services Committee meeting Thursday to speak out against the bill.

“This forced inclusion and data retention in the current system is unconstitutional. And this bill expands the registry’s intrusive reach even further,” Frazer said.

Frazer adds in her opinion, there is only one solution to giving parents an option concerning inclusion in the database.

“The only way to actually solve this problem, is to start asking for permission. An opt in system with full informed consent,” Frazer said. “One simple line on all healthcare forms: Would you like your child’s medical records in the Florida Shots database? Yes or no?”

Tanya Warfield of New Smyrna Beach was one of those who spoke against the Senate’s version of the bill. She invoked the state constitution’s provisions regarding privacy.

“This goes against section 23 in the Florida Constitution, where ‘every natural person has the right to be left alone and free from government intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein,’” Warfield said.

Like Frazer, Warfield urged lawmakers to make the registry an opt in, rather than an opt out basis. Other critics call the registry a “tracing system” and raise questions about facing potential discrimination as a result.

Democratic Representative Nicholas Duran, however, says he doesn’t feel privacy is violated thanks largely to bill’s amendment.

“I don’t see this as a patient privacy issue because of the work you have put into allowing the bill to respect those who do not want to be in this system, will remain out of the system,” Duran said. “This is a public health issue.”

The bill’s House version cleared its final committee stop Thursday, and in the Senate is set for its final stop in the Rules Committee.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.