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What HIPAA can and can’t do for COVID-19 vaccination status disclosure

COVID-19 vaccines
COVID-19 vaccines(WMBF)
Published: Aug. 20, 2021 at 4:21 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - In a time where verifying COVID-19 vaccinations is on the rise, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is one of those terms you may have heard of when it comes to medical privacy.

WMBF Investigates wanted to find the rate of vaccination across our Grand Strand and Pee Dee school districts, only to find many are not tracking it - and some cite HIPAA as being the reason why.

RELATED COVERAGE | Many area school districts aren’t tracking vaccination rates of staff

HIPAA’s laws apply to health plans, most health care providers and health care clearinghouses, along with their respective business associates.

But generally speaking, these laws don’t apply to employers, most school districts as well as most law enforcement agencies.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, “if an employer asks an employee to provide proof that they have been vaccinated, that is not a HIPAA violation, and employees may decide whether to provide that information to their employer.”

There are other laws that can also be thrown into the mix that complicate what private and public employers can do, such as Equal Employment Opportunity laws and South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, so long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions.”

The South Carolina Department of Education says school districts can inquire about vaccination status, but its employees don’t have to disclose it, which can prevent the collection of accurate information.

According to a department spokesperson, if COVID-19 vaccination status was “voluntarily disclosed by the employee, the school/district/employer would need the employee’s express authorization, in writing, to disclose this to another outside entity, such as the state education agency.”

As he put it, this is also assuming that the school district isn’t a covered entity. In some cases, this can be a possibility.

WMBF News would also like to know whether or not you’d want to know if your students’ school districts or your community’s police departments are vaccinated.

Click here to take our survey.

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