Medical codes introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic to show when people are unvaccinated or undervaccinated for COVID-19 are being used to track people, the top U.S. public health agency has confirmed.
The CDC now says it doesn't have access to the data, but that health care systems do.
"The ICD codes were implemented in April 2022, however, the CDC does not have any data on the codes and does not track this information," CDC officials said in the emails.
"The codes were created to enable healthcare providers to track within their practices."
The emails were sent to news outlets. The CDC hasn't answered queries from The Epoch Times about the codes, which the CDC added to the U.S. ICD system in 2022.
How Providers Are Using the CodesThe CDC proposed the codes in 2021.
"There has been interest expressed in being able to track people who are not immunized or who are only partially immunized,” Dr. David Berglund, a CDC medical officer, said during a meeting about the proposal.
One code is for being “unvaccinated for COVID-19.” Another is for being partially vaccinated or not having received a primary series of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Identifying people who are unvaccinated or undervaccinated for COVID-19 "will help health insurance providers identify emollees [sic] who may benefit from outreach and further education about vaccination," Danielle Lloyd, a senior vice president at America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), and Adam Myers, senior vice president at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, said in a joint letter to the CDC.
"Creating ICD-10 codes that can be tracked via claims would provide health insurance providers key information to help increase immunization rates."
In another missive, Nancy Andersen, a director with Kaiser Permanente Health Plan and Hospitals, and Erica Eastham, executive director at The Permanente Federation LLC, told the CDC, "These codes provide valuable data for understanding immunization rates and for follow-up with under-immunized patients."
Andersen and Eastham urged the CDC to advise providers entering one of the new codes to also enter an additional code indicating why a person was unvaccinated or undervaccinated, with reasons including contraindications and "belief or group pressure."
The comments were obtained by The Epoch Times through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Most of the providers and other health care groups that commented, including the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), didn't respond to inquiries.
The codes are part of the ICD's 10th edition. The World Health Organization of the United Nations holds the copyright for ICD-10 but has allowed the U.S. government to adopt the edition, according to the CDC. The new codes aren't part of the World Health Organization's ICD.
SupportHealth care officials largely said they supported adding the codes because being unvaccinated or undervaccinated was a "risk factor."
"AHIMA supported the new codes for underimmunization for COVID-19 status because being unvaccinated or partially vaccinated ... is a health risk factor, increasing the individual’s risk of morbidity and mortality," a spokeswoman for AHIMA told The Epoch Times via email.
"The ICD-10-CM coding system includes codes for many health risk factors, and being underimmunized for COVID-19 status represents another type of risk factor. It is important to be able to identify factors influencing a patient’s health status so that healthcare providers are aware of the person’s increased risk."
Some experts have said there is no medical indication for the new codes because of the small risk most Americans face from COVID-19.
CDC Refuses to Answer Members of CongressThe CDC, meanwhile, has refused to answer questions from members of Congress about the codes.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and nine other members said they were concerned about the federal government apparently gathering data on the personal choices of Americans and said they believe the data serve "no sincere purpose in treating patients’ medical conditions."
"The ICD system was originally intended to classify diagnoses and reasons for visiting the doctor, not to conduct surveillance on the personal medical decisions of American citizens. Given the profound uncertainty and distrust felt by many Americans toward the CDC and the medical apparatus at large, it is important for the CDC to make clear the intent and purpose of these new codes," the members said. They also asked what steps the CDC is taking to make sure Americans' private health information is protected.
"I have asked five simple questions about the CDC's unprecedented tracking of why Americans declined the COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC has so far refused to answer these basic questions. The American people deserve answers on what data CDC is gathering on Americans and why," Roy told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement.
“The American people deserve to know what the CDC is doing with their personal data," Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-Okla.) said. "It has now been more than a month and a half, and the CDC still refuses to tell us why it is tracking Americans’ reasons for not taking the COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC must be held accountable to the American taxpayer.”