A: No. Businesses, employers, family, or friends can ask about someone’s vaccine status without violating HIPAA.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a US federal law that created national standards to protect patient health information from being disclosed without that person’s consent. This law only applies to certain organizations and businesses, called “covered entities.” Namely, healthcare providers and health insurance plans can’t give out someone’s health information without their consent, except for treatment, payment, and healthcare operations. Other organizations, like businesses and employers, can ask about vaccination and require proof of vaccine status. If someone is not vaccinated, employers and businesses can require a person to follow safety measures to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19, like masks or physical distancing. If that individual decides not to comply, businesses can refuse service based on health and safety concerns.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) gave some advice to employers about this very issue. They said that it is totally ok to ask about vaccination status but should avoid asking why someone did not get vaccinated. There may be reasons someone chose not to get vaccinated that are disability-related, and this would butt up against the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Anyone can refuse to answer the question, but they should be prepared to be treated as if they are unvaccinated. This could mean they are denied entry to a business or workplace, be required to wear a facemask or physically distance. Of course, getting vaccinated will avoid all this hassle and protect you from Covid-19! 😉