The COVID-19 vaccination program is providing pharmacies and other retailers consumer data, which they can use for tailored marketing. It is a concern for people who value their privacy, despite the fact that medical information is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
In an effort to help people easily access the vaccine in the US, the Biden administration launched a program to deliver vaccines to pharmacies and grocery chains, such as CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. The stores are not benefiting financially from the vaccines, as they are free. However, they are getting something much more valuable, consumer data.
These stores are collecting data from people when they sign up for the vaccines. With consumer data such as emails, these pharmacy stores can enroll people into their patient systems, send promotional emails, or simply stay in touch with vaccine recipients. With a little more demographic data, stores can tailor their marketing, which helps increase leads.
These companies claim that collecting consumer data is important as it helps with record-keeping and ensuring only qualified people get the shots.
Walgreens, for example, requires people interested in the vaccine to register a Walgreens account in order to search for available appointments. By signing up for a Walgreens account, you automatically start receiving marketing emails, which you can opt-out of. However, you also allow the company to “automatically collect information about you and your use of the Services, including without limitation, your real-time location, MAC address, and IP address.”
A spokesperson for Walgreens told the Wall Street Journal that the data “helps us better understand our customers, meet changing needs and continue to enhance and deliver the tailored solutions that we have been known for throughout the pandemic.”
Jonathan Roberts, the COO of CVS, said, “Every one of these customers is coming through our digital front end, so we have their email, we have their text message, and we have the ability to communicate with them regularly.”
CVS plans to use the data to communicate with vaccine recipients, even after they get the second shot, and for tailored marketing. Walmart requires individuals interested in the vaccine to create a profile via its online system. Therefore, by the end of the vaccination programs, the retailer will have millions of customer profiles.
For other retail pharmacies such as Hartig Drug Stores, a chain pharmacy in the Midwest, the vaccination program is an opportunity to bring in more business. The company is encouraging staff to suggest products people might need after receiving the shot, such as ice packs and pain killers.
Medical information is federally protected under HIPAA. So, protected medical information cannot be used for marketing without the patient’s consent (but there are a few exceptions). Therefore, in theory, the only information stores providing the vaccine can use is non-medical information such as contact information.