Meng Urges Trump Administration To Not Undermine Coronavirus Vaccination Program

Dec 5, 2020
Press Release
Congresswoman leads letter to HHS and CDC objecting to the requirement for states to collect and share personal identification information of vaccine recipients; Calls for changes to the plan

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) called for changes to the Trump Administration’s COVID-19 vaccination plan that would force states to sign an agreement in which the personal identification information of vaccine recipients would be shared with the federal government.

In a letter Meng led to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield, the Congresswoman called for the agreement to not require the collection of personal identifiable information, such as Social Security, passport, and driver license numbers from those who receive the vaccine, and that it prohibit any individual identification data from being shared with non-health federal agencies. Under the current Data Use Agreement, HHS can share the personal information with other federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, which could use the data to target undocumented immigrants.

“All people, including immigrants, deserve to access the COVID-19 vaccine without fear or reservation of having their personal identification information shared with non-health-related federal agencies,” said Congresswoman Meng. “Sharing this data will instill fear in our immigrant communities, and deter immigrants from being vaccinated. Providing the vaccine must be free of politics, and we urge that revisions be made so that it is not mandatory for states to collect and share vaccinated individuals’ personal identifiable information with the federal government. I await a response to our letter.”

The correspondence, which was signed by a total of 48 Members of Congress, can be viewed here and the text of the letter is below.

Earlier this week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, joined by numerous advocacy organizations, sent a letter to Secretary Azar expressing the same concerns.

"To ensure the public health of every New Yorker, the COVID-19 vaccine must be accessible to all without any obstacles," said Murad Awawdeh, interim Co-Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition. "We are proud to join Congressmember Meng's call to protect immigrants and to ensure that no agenda but the nation’s public health drives the vaccination program."   

“This pandemic has disproportionately affected immigrants and people of color in New York, and it is outrageous for the Trump Administration to continue to play politics with the lives of our communities," said Theo OshiroDeputy Director of Make the Road New York. “Trump’s disastrous attempt to request personal data when distributing a COVID-19 vaccine would jeopardize the health of the entire communities, especially that of low-income people of color. We must ensure that during this health crisis, all people are able to access a free vaccine and that it is readily accessible to everyone."

“During one of the biggest health crisis our country has ever known, the priority should be to ensure that everyone, regardless of their immigration status, gets access to the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director of the Asian American Federation. “Requiring identification before getting a vaccine politicizes the very health solution that will get our country back on the road to recovery from this pandemic. We must not forget that in most cities, many of the essential workers were often undocumented workers who put their lives at risk to keep the rest of us safe. We cannot erase their contributions by creating unnecessary obstacles. It is cruel and unnecessary. We stand with Representative Meng in calling for HHS and CDC to drop the identification requirement.” 

“Already too many undocumented immigrants and those in mixed status families avoid accessing healthcare and needed government services because they fear doing so will reveal their status and upend their lives,” said Frankie Miranda, President and CEO of the Hispanic Federation. “At a time when we need complete public confidence and participation to finally end this pandemic, our public health agencies and political leaders must send a clear signal that no one has anything to fear from the COVID-19 vaccination program. A failure to revise the Data Use Agreement will result in lower rates of participation in immigrant communities and undermine the success we all seek.”

"COVID-19 vaccines must be prioritized for the most vulnerable members of our communities, including essential workers and elderly Southeast Asian Americans. Many members of our communities continue to work day in and day out to assemble personal protective equipment, process and package our foods, and serve our hospitals. Like we have already seen through the efforts of the Trump Administration to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, requiring and sharing personally identifiable information across agencies creates fear and mistrust of the government and its services," said Katrina Dizon Mariategue, acting Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC). "At the height of this pandemic, our country must prioritize public health and remove barriers to vaccination. We applaud Representative Grace Meng for her leadership and SEARAC echoes her request to Secretary Azar and Director Redfield to revise the current Data Use Agreement.”

"On behalf of Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc. (KCS), we share Congresswoman Grace Meng's concern regarding the requirement for states to adhere to the Data Request Agreement in order to receive the vaccination,” said Linda Lee, MSW, President and CEO of Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc. (KCS). “As a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to helping immigrant and marginalized communities, this would undermine both the protection of our clients as well as the prevention efforts of this virus. Placing these restrictions will instill fear in the immigrant population and deter them from seeking the vaccination. We strongly urge the CDC to revise these regulations, especially for Sanctuary States like New York who have promised to protect its people and keep them safe."

"Immigrant communities throughout the United States have been disproportionately affected by this deadly virus and must have access to a potentially life-saving COVID-19 vaccine without fear or reservation that their personal identification will be shared with non-health related agencies," said Arturo Vargas, Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund.

"It is critical for our public health and national recovery that all Americans, including immigrants, have access to the COVID-19 vaccine once it is available,” said Diego Iñiguez-López, Policy and Campaigns Manager of the National Partnership for New Americans. “The federal government should administer the vaccine in a way that does not infringe on Americans' privacy rights. It should not be requiring states to collect sensitive personal information, such as a person's social security number or a driver's license number, and sharing that information with non-health related federal agencies. Without privacy protections, too many immigrants and refugees will be deterred from getting the vaccine, effectively continuing the destruction and death that communities of color have disproportionately faced due to the pandemic. This is why the National Partnership for New Americans stands with Congresswoman Grace Meng in calling for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to administer the COVID-19 vaccine with privacy protections for all Americans."

“Requesting states to provide vaccine recipients’ personal information to the federal government would create panic among immigrant communities who are already fearful of how their information is used,” said Eric Naing, Media Relations Officer of Muslim Advocates. “Since COVID-19 has overwhelmingly and disproportionately devastated communities of color, such a requirement would be counterproductive to strengthening public health. We thank Congresswoman Meng for leading the fight against this dangerous data use plan. Immigrants have continually put their lives on the line in hospitals, schools, taxis, meatpacking plants, grocery stores and more to keep our country going during this pandemic. Any effort to prevent them from being vaccinated must be stopped.”

“We must roll out a national vaccine plan that ensures all--regardless of their immigration status--have free access, but the proposed requirement that states provide personal identification information to the federal government would undermine this public health goal,” said Diana Konaté, Policy Director at African Communities Together. “I applaud Congresswoman Meng for recognizing this problem and calling on Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to revise that requirement. No one should have to choose between their health and their immigration status.”

“We applaud Representative Meng’s leadership in ensuring that all people in the U.S., regardless of their immigration status, receive a COVID vaccination when it is available,” said John C. Yang, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC’s President and Executive Director. “We know that data collection can pose real and perceived threats to immigrant communities and their US citizen family members. The government should take all measures available to make sure that all members of our communities feel safe accessing health care, including COVID vaccines. The only way we can overcome this virus is by working in unity as a nation to protect the most at risk and vulnerable among us.”

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Dear Secretary Azar and Director Redfield:

We write to express our deep concern regarding the current Data Use Agreement to which states are required to commit in order to initiate their COVID-19 vaccination program, and urge you to: 1) revise this agreement; and 2) prohibit any individual data from being shared with other federal agencies. Failure to do so could dangerously undermine the entire vaccination process, and thereby jeopardize our national health and recovery from this pandemic.

First, the current Data Use Agreement requires identification of each vaccinated person, and thereby suggests states to collect Social Security number, passport number, or driver license identification number. Suggesting these types of identification data is akin to disclosing one’s immigration status. Just as COVID-19 does not distinguish one’s immigration status, neither should the administration of COVID-19 vaccines.

Second, it is our understanding that a provision in the Data Use Agreement would allow these identification data to be shared between federal agencies. Individuals must not fear their personal information being disclosed to the Department of Homeland Security, or any other non-health related entity. No one should have to choose between their health or their immigration status. Such provisions will instill fear in our immigrant communities; deter immigrants from being vaccinated; and upend the efficacy of any vaccination program or our country’s ability to overcome this national public health emergency.

As such, we urge you to promptly revise states’ Data Use Agreement such that:

(1) states are not required to collect recipient identification information, specifically Social Security number, passport number, and driver license number, for COVID-19 vaccination purposes; and

(2) non-health-related federal agencies must be prohibited from accessing any identification information collected from vaccinated persons.

As we continue our fight against this highly contagious and invisible enemy, we must keep in mind that immigrants make up a disproportionate number of essential workers who risk their own lives to save lives, keep our cities running, and ensure Americans have access to food. With record-breaking numbers of new COVID-19 cases across the U.S. and more projected through this holiday season, we urge you to swiftly make the necessary changes to the Data Use Agreement, so that all people – regardless of background and immigration status – will access the vaccines without fear or reservation. We look forward to hearing from you by Wednesday, December 9, 2020 on this urgent matter.

Sincerely,