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Cuomo: Trump administration could use vaccine data for deportation

Office of the Governor
Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a recent press briefing.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo claimed Monday that the Trump administration was seeking to use information related to recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine to target undocumented individuals for deportation, but a federal agency says the data wouldn’t be used for that purpose.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in a document sent to the nation’s governors, said that data would be used solely for tracking vaccine administration.

Cuomo claimed in a call with reporters Monday that the Trump administration had an ulterior motive to allow that information to be used by federal immigration officials in targeting undocumented people for deportation.

The Trump administration, Cuomo said, told his office that it would be seeking the personal identification numbers of individuals who receive the vaccine. In New York, those numbers are usually associated with a person’s driver’s license or Social Security number.

Because New York allows undocumented people to receive driver’s licenses, Cuomo said he suspected the Trump administration would use the data to track the state’s immigrants.

"Why would you possibly need someone's Social Security number, ID number, or passport number before they receive a vaccine?" Cuomo said. "There is no legitimate health reason. This is just another example of them trying ... to deport people."

According to the White House, the federal government is seeking that information to adequately track who’s received the vaccine, match that person with a second dose, and identify patient information if there are any adverse effects to the injection.

They’re also seeking the data to clear up any confusion in tracking who’s received the vaccine, and to analyze how effective it is among different demographics, according to the White House.

Michael Bars, a spokesperson for the White House, said in a statement Monday afternoon that Cuomo’s comments were politically motivated.

“As we’ve already explained to Governor Cuomo, such information will only be used to support the unprecedented private-public partnership continuing to harness the full power of the federal government, private sector, military, and scientific community to combat the coronavirus and save lives,” Bars said.

“His politically-motivated attacks are counterproductive and reflect a profound lack of understanding for the complex public health challenges associated with administering a safe and effective vaccine to New York and communities across the country. He didn’t understand how to protect seniors in long-term care settings, nor does he understand vaccine distribution.”

The National Governors Association, which Cuomo leads, asked the Trump administration in a letter in October a series of questions about the federal government’s vaccine plan. Among them was a query about how data on the vaccine’s distribution would be used.

The Trump administration sent the National Governors Association its responses to the group’s questions Friday, including a broader explanation for how data would be used.

“Identifiable data will not be available to CDC or other federal agencies for programmatic use and will only be used to track and reconcile COVID-19 vaccine administration data from disparate data sources,” the response said.

Cuomo said Monday that he’s asked the Trump administration for clarification on why they need identification numbers for individuals receiving the vaccine instead of just their name, address, and other identifiable information.

In the meantime, he said, the state will not agree to send the federal government any information on the identification numbers, Social Security numbers, or passport numbers of individuals slated to receive the vaccine.

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