HHS chief Becerra: It's absolutely the federal government's business to know if you've been vaccinated

A bad, even counterproductive argument made by a guy whose track record of left-wing culture war in California makes him especially ill-suited to persuading Republican vaccine holdouts. With the exception of Fauci, I’d say he’s the worst possible choice within the administration to try to sell the new door-to-door vaccination campaign to skeptical righties.

In fact, the imperiousness of his point smells to me like something that could only have come from a politician who’s spent his professional life in a deep-blue big-government state. If you want to warm up conservatives to the idea of public officials coming to their door to offer them a shot, you should strain to emphasize that local officials will be in charge, not the far-flung left-wing administration in Washington. And you should certainly concede that there’s no reason for the federal government to know an individual’s vaccination status. Becerra could have deflected that question here by insisting that the feds are merely helping to fund and support local outreach efforts; local officials might review vax records to get a sense of which neighborhoods are undervaccinated but Uncle Sam doesn’t need and won’t have that information.

Instead he embraces the idea. We’ve spent a lot of money on trying to protect you people from COVID, he says. Of course the feds should know whether you’ve bothered to get the shot or not.

Has this guy ever spoken to a right-winger in his life?

Again, he’s from California so … no, probably not.

We can debate whether COVID vaccination status should be a matter of strict medical privacy off-limits to the government the way some other medical treatments are. There are some conditions you understandably wouldn’t want anyone apart from your doctor to know about, like an STD. On the other hand, you have to disclose what vaccinations you’ve had in order to travel abroad and your children have to disclose them to the local school district in order to attend class, so the government does get that information under certain circumstances. It’s easy to make the case that, during a pandemic, when trying to contain a deadly airborne disease that can be passively transmitted, the public’s interest in making sure local officials know who’s unvaccinated for purposes of vaccine outreach trumps the individual’s privacy interest in keeping their status secret.

But even if you agree with that, there’s no obvious reason why the federal government should have the information. It’s the administration’s job to provide resources to the states to do the door-to-door program. That’s it. Why do they need to know whose doors are being knocked on?

A much wiser spin than Becerra’s on the new door-to-door program came from White House COVID czar Jeff Zients, who was at pains this morning to make clear that local leaders will be running this show. They’re not sending the FBI out to kick down the door and start jabbing every family member in reach. They’re going to back locals, “leaders that people know and trust” in Zients’s words, to spearhead the effort. Which is common sense: Vaccine hesitancy is high among African-Americans and rural white populists, two groups that distrust government agents for different reasons. Your best bet at getting past that is approaching them with someone from their own community, whom they’re less likely to view as a strong-arming interloper.

Zients also said today that nearly all hospitalizations and deaths from coronavirus right now are occurring in unvaccinated people, a reality that can’t be emphasized enough.