Could Your Vax-A-Million Entry Be Abused?

COLUMBUS — If you are among the more than three million people in Ohio who signed up for the Vax-A-Million drawing, a state lawmaker wants to make sure your personal information remains confidential.

Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, has introduced a bill to put in state law that information forwarded to the state for the Vax-A-Million drawing is private and not a public record subject to Ohio’s open records act.

Stephanie McCloud, Director of the Ohio Department of Health, said earlier that the database of Vax-A-Million applicants would not be shared with anyone else. Brenner, however, said it appears that the names, addresses and telephone numbers of people who signed up for the drawing would be subject to an open records request if someone asked for it. Brenner believes current state law does not appear to protect that information from going public.

“There’s nothing in the statute. There’s nothing in the rule that would indicate that this database is private and I think people have a reasonable expectation that when they were entering in this it would be private,” Brenner said in an interview with WHIO-TV.

Brenner’s bill, SB 195, states that it is “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety. The reason for such necessity is to protect the privacy of individuals.”

Hearings on the bill began Wednesday morning in the Ohio Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee, with Brenner giving sponsor testimony. It is written as an emergency measure, meaning if it passes both the Senate and House and is signed by the Governor, it would take effect immediately.

Among Brenner’s concerns is the potential access to millions of people’s cell phone and email addresses. Those are part of the sign-up process for the Vax-A-Million drawing. Gov. Mike DeWine has used the winner’s cell phone numbers to call them with the good news each week after the names are chosen.

Brenner’s hope is to guard against abuse of the Vax-A-Million database, should it somehow be made available to someone outside of state government. “You can have various businesses or organizations, even life insurance companies, who knows, wanting to get copies of this database and use it for either marketing purposes and see whether or not somebody was in fact vaccinated to be able to put that information and compare it against the general population,” Brenner said.

The language of Brenner’s bill protecting that information has also been added to the State Senate version of the state budget bill. If it remains a part of the budget, that too would have the same effect as Brenner’s bill, although not as quickly as SB 195. Brenner said either way, he intends to make sure the information remains private.

The bill is part of a larger movement in the General Assembly to keep people’s vaccination status confidential and prohibit it from being shared with second and third parties or to be used to discriminate against someone.