“We have grifters in our midst. Not here in this room, I mean in the conservative movement,” said Crenshaw as he joined congressional candidates Wesley Hunt and Morgan Luttrell onstage for a “fireside chat” at a Northwest Harris County eatery.
Last week, Crenshaw was one of 80 House Republicans who joined Democrats in voting for the Immunization Infrastructure Modernization Act of 2021 (H.R. 550), which allocates $400 million to states to update immunization information systems (IIS).
“You heard online that 80 Republicans voted to track you in a vaccine database,” Crenshaw told the audience of more than 200. “If it sounds too ridiculous to be true, it’s probably not true.”
Following passage of H.R. 550, Crenshaw and other Republican members of the Texas delegation came under heavy criticism for supporting what many fear will be a national vaccine database that would allow the federal government to track and possibly punish unvaccinated citizens. But Crenshaw vigorously disputed that characterization of the bill.
“Unfortunately, many Republicans you trust are lying to you. They want you to believe they stood strong against a ‘new vaccine database.’ But they’re lying. There’s no new database,” Crenshaw said in a written statement to The Texan.
Instead, Crenshaw notes that the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed by Congress “without a single GOP vote” last March had already included funds for existing state-level vaccine databases, but without any safeguards or limitations on data collected.
“We just made current databases…secure against federal government tracking.”
Critics point to language in the bill authorizing grants to improve “the secure bidirectional exchange of immunization record data among Federal, State, local, tribal, and territorial governmental entities and non-government entities.”
Bill author Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH-02) stated in a press release that H.R. 550 would “enhance security of the bidirectional exchange,” but also says that the systems could also be used to “remind patients when they are due for a recommended vaccine.”
Republicans who voted for H.R. 550 however, say the legislation requires all states receiving funds to bolster cybersecurity and prevent existing state systems from sharing individual vaccine data with the federal government.
“It is explicitly designed to improve data security and privacy protection. Republicans were rightly worried about this, which is why H.R. 550 was crafted with clear privacy safeguards to correct it,” said Crenshaw in a statement to The Texan. “We didn’t want authoritarian blue-state governors transmitting personal vaccination information to the [Centers for Disease Control] CDC, or have a hacker steal personal vaccine data.”
All 50 states maintain vaccine databases, and the Texas Department of State Health Services offers voluntary participation in a vaccine registry known as ImmTrac2. Since the introduction of the new vaccines, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has tracked COVID-19 vaccination status and reports that nearly 70 percent of the state population is fully vaccinated.
DSHS reports aggregate population data to the CDC and already notifies individuals when they are due for a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine via text message.
The other Texas Republicans who supported H.R. 550, Michael Burgess (R-TX-26), John Carter (R-TX-31), Tony Gonzales (R-TX-23), and Michael McCaul (R-TX-10), have also come under fire for supporting H.R. 550.
Crenshaw notes he has introduced legislation to prohibit federal agencies requiring vaccine passports for interstate commerce, and supported other resolutions opposing vaccine mandates.
Under the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided $20 million to community-level immunization information systems to help “track vaccination progress, help clinicians contact high-risk patients, and help identify patients due to receive the second dose of the vaccine.”
In addition to his vote on IIS funding, Crenshaw also took aim at groups who accused him of supporting “red flag” laws that attempt to deny gun ownership to some citizens based on mental health concerns that were tucked into a proposed military spending measure.
“The truth was that was not the final bill and there was already a deal that there would be no such provisions in the final bill. We are actually voting on the final bill this week, and guess what? No red flag laws in there,” said Crenshaw adding that he was the only member of Congress who had a bill that would prohibit red flag laws at the federal level.
“On that particular lie, the grifters went full force ahead, the Gun Owners of America, because they were trying to fundraise,” Crenshaw added.
Last month, Jameson Ellis, who had planned to run in the 8th Congressional District until final redistricting maps place him in Congressional District 2, announced he would challenge Crenshaw in the 2022 Republican primary. A small business owner, Ellis has voiced marked opposition to red flag laws.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.