Like other states, Texas has an immunization registry, a database of who’s been vaccinated against which diseases. And both public health and individuals benefit from it.
The more complete the registry is, the better job the state can do when it comes to figuring out which areas have particularly low immunization rates, allowing them to make cost-effective decisions about where to make vaccinations more available. In the case of disease outbreaks, it helps experts figure out whether the underlying problem is a low vaccination rate. It also helps residents by keeping a safe, permanent record of their vaccinations.
But in Texas, the law requires patients or their parents to take the pro-active step of signing paperwork in order to have their records in the registry. More patients would be served, and state records would be more robust, if the opposite happened—if people signed paperwork to exclude themselves from the registry.
Hurricane Katrina offered a dramatic lesson in how useful it would be for individuals and public health officials to have a more complete immunization registry. When Katrina struck in 2005, a large migration of Louisiana residents arrived in Texas. Many of them left everything they had behind; certainly, searching for vaccine records wasn't part of their emergency evacuation.
But Louisiana has an opt-out registry, and as a result, state records for each person were readily available. Children who needed to be enrolled in school were able to attend right away. Their overwhelmed parents didn't need to worry about it. People didn't require re-vaccination for anything, saving thousands of dollars.
Here are some important things to know about opt-out registries, vs. Texas' opt-in system.
- Almost every state uses an opt-out registry. Texas is one of only four to require its residents to sign up if they want to be included.
- Opt-out saves everyone money. The cost of getting consent forms is from all those who want to be part of it—and most Texans do—is $1.4 million a year. That price tag would be reduced to about $110,000.
- Recent high school graduates who enroll in college, join the military or go into the health field often find it hard to get complete, up-to-date records of vaccinations required for those next steps in life. The registry would have all of their records in one convenient place.
- The same is true for parents who move from one school district to another, or out of state.
- Families who lose their vaccination records and can’t locate doctors they might have seen years ago would have immediate, official information readily available.
- Not all parents know about the full schedule of recommended vaccines. With a more complete registry, doctors’ offices could send out reminder notices.
- The more Texans who are in the registry, the better the job state officials can do in understanding the big picture of immunization and cases of vaccine-preventable disease. It would help them get to the heart of outbreaks of dangerous diseases so that they could quickly come up with steps for reducing the impact and preventing future problems.
- Patients and parents would have the same rights to choose whether or not they want any vaccine—and whether or not they want to be in the registry. It would still be their decision entirely.
- The information of patients in the registry would continue to be confidential, and patients would be able to have their information removed from the registry if they wanted at a future date.
- The Texas Medical Assn. supports the idea of an opt-out registry.
Better health services for Texans at reduced cost with less fuss, while those who want their records kept out of the registry would retain every right to do this. A switch to an opt-out registry would be full of wins for Texans, with no losses.