Two Republican North Dakota state senators have requested that health officials stop calling residents and offering COVID-19 vaccine information.
The Bismarck Tribune reports that state Sens. Jessica Bell and Nicole Poolman sent a Tuesday letter to State Health Officer Nizar Wehbi over concerns about the role of the government in “personal health choices”
“In order for the Department to initiate these calls, medical records must be accessed without the immediate consent from the citizens of North Dakota,” they wrote in their letter.
According to the Tribune, Bell and Poolman asked Wehbi what confidentiality protections residents had, who was making the calls and what training they had.
Bell told the Tribune that she wants the calls to be halted until the questions in her letter are answered.
“This isn’t about vaccines,” Bell said. “It’s about the proper role of government,” she added, to which Poolman agreed.
“Reminder/recall outreach is a well-established, effective tool that has been used to increase immunization coverage rates for years,” Wehbi wrote in a letter responding to the lawmakers.
According to Wehbi, patient data is stored on a secure database owned by the North Dakota Health Department and the people making the phone calls were employed by the department. These callers “either have medical or public health experience or have been trained by those with medical or public health experience,” Wehbi said.
The Tribune reports that contact tracers also received training on HIPAA, a federal law that prevents health care providers from providing a patient’s information without their consent. Letters were also sent to individuals aged 65 and older who were not recorded as having received a COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the North Dakota Department of Health, a little over 586,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered so far. Around 49 percent of of North Dakota residents have received at least one shot.