HHS head: ‘Absolutely the government’s business’ to know people’s vaccine status

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra declared Thursday that “it is absolutely the government’s business” to know people’s vaccination status, arguing the federal government has a vested interest in keeping Americans safe.

“The federal government has spent trillions of dollars to try and keep Americans alive during this pandemic,” Becerra said on CNN’s “New Day.” “So it is absolutely the government’s business, it is taxpayers’ business, if we have to continue to spend money to try and keep people from contracting COVID.” 

The HHS chief demurred when pressed on whether the Biden administration would push to require proof for vaccinations, as advocated by some health experts, maintaining it should be left up to states and local governments.

“We want to give people the sense that they have the freedom to choose, but we hope that they choose to live,” he added when pressed.

The concept of “vaccine passports” has previously drawn fierce pushback from GOP governors and civil rights advocates, among others, and the White House earlier this year ruled out the administration playing any role in such a system, indicating it would defer to private companies if they wanted to institute a system to require proof of vaccination.

In a tweet later on Thursday, Becerra attempted to clarify his remarks.

“Some comments I made today are being taken wildly out of context,” he said. “To be clear: government has no database tracking who is vaccinated. We’re encouraging people to step up to protect themselves, others by getting vaccinated. It’s the best way to save lives and end this pandemic.”

Becerra’s remarks come a day after President Biden suggested that door-to-door community outreach would be one of the ways to promote the COVID-19 vaccine and ease concerns of those hesitant to receive it, as the administration seeks to boost vaccination numbers.

“Please get vaccinated now. It works. It’s free,” Biden said during a speech while discussing the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus, which is now the dominant strain in the country. Health experts have said that vaccines appear to be effective against the variant.

“It’s never been easier, and it’s never been more important,” Biden continued Wednesday, urging vaccinations. “Do it now for yourself and the people you care about, for your neighborhood, for your country. It sounds corny, but it’s a patriotic thing to do.”

Biden’s comments sparked some pushback from conservative Republicans, including Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

“Americans trust medical researchers and their family doctors to provide information and recommendations to make personal decisions but they do not trust government intrusion or the politicization of the health care process,” Brnovich said in a letter to the White House this week.

“I, along with many Arizonans, was greatly alarmed by your White House indicating that it might be in possession of medical records revealing the contact information for Americans who have not been vaccinated … If this is the case, this is a severe breach of privacy, and I will not tolerate such intrusions within Arizona.”

Becerra maintained that HHS and others in the administration have a duty to make sure that all Americans can “prosper and freely associate” following the pandemic, saying ensuring as many people in the country are vaccinated as possible is key to that prerogative. 

“Knocking on a door has never been against the law, you don’t have to answer,” he said. “But we hope you do, because if you do we can hopefully help dispel some of those rumors that you’ve heard and hopefully get you vaccinated.” 

Updated 1:29 p.m.

Tags Delta variant Joe Biden Mandatory vaccinations United States responses to the COVID-19 pandemic Xavier Becerra

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