The Israel Association of Public Health Physicians called on lawmakers on Tuesday to vote down a bill that would hand over the details of people who haven't received the coronavirus vaccine to the authorities, saying that it would violate the principle of patient confidentiality.
Ahead of a hearing by the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, which allowed the bill to go ahead for a vote in the full Knesset, a letter by the association said that while was important to encourage vaccination against COVID-19, “an unprofessional action could possibly cause serious harm” and damage the public’s trust in government and the authorities.
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The doctors argued that the exposure of confidential medical information to local authorities would undermine trust in them and violate the principle of medical privacy.
The association described the bill as a “slippery slope," saying that if the importance of vaccination justified the disclosure of private medical information, this opened the door to providing information about someone's weight or smoking habits for the sake of their health. It added that it supports giving local authorities the tools to encourage vaccination on a local level, but that such a step does not require legislative changes.
The bill passed the first Knesset vote, out of the three total it must pass in order to become law, on Sunday. The Knesset House Committee, chaired by Eitan Ginzburg of Kahol Lavan, approved passing the controversial bill through a special process with a much shorter timetable than used for regular legislation.
“Encouraging vaccination is the order of the day and a national goal, but hasty legislation that could harm individual rights will not contribute significantly to this goal, and may even cause harm,” wrote the physicians.
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The bill would allow health maintenance organizations to pass on the medical information in their possession, which would be an explicit violation of the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, which enshrines the right to privacy, said the association. Such a law could be legitimate only if it could be proven that its purpose was appropriate and its application proportional."
The letter said that other alternatives exist that do not require privacy violations, such as having additional medical professionals working in schools or local authorities who would be part of local vaccine efforts.
The bill is meant to make it legal for the director-general of the Health Ministry to pass on identifying information and contact details of those who have been vaccinated, and those who have not or have only had a single dose of the vaccine, to relevant authorities requesting the information. At this stage, this would involve only local authorities, or the Education Ministry in the case of teaching staff.
The committee’s legal adviser, Anat Maimon, explained during the committee session that the information to be passed on includes names, ID card numbers, addresses and phone numbers. In addition, in cases of a person who has received only a single dose of vaccine but did not show up on time to receive the second dose, the date of the first vaccination would also be provided. Maimon said the bill only refers to people aged 16 and up, and explained that a person who is contacted in order to encourage them to vaccinate could request that they not be contacted again.
Talia Agmon, the deputy legal adviser in the Health Ministry, said personal information would be given only to a local government that actively requests it from the ministry, and that it would have to inform the ministry how it planned to use the information. Based on this request, the director-general would decide whether to hand over the information.
Reuven Eidelman, the legal adviser to the government's Privacy Protection Authority, told the committee that bill would set a precedent of involving local governments in public health: “The committee needs to examine whether the advantage local governments have in encouraging vaccination is such that justifies personal information on every resident, as opposed to statistical information.”
In response, committee chairman Haim Katz of Likud demanded: “Explain to me how many people need to die for it to be considered justified? Five dead? 10? Is privacy more important than freedom of life?” Katz added that the bill was only a first step. “I hope that in the next stage they will tell someone who does not vaccinate – don’t come to work," he said. "If it was up to me – that’s the way it would be.”