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Why Texas Deletes Vaccine Records from State Registry

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Veronica Zaragovia/KUT News
A group of doctors visited State Rep. Ken Sheets, R-Dallas, to discuss the ImmTrac vaccine registry in Texas.

With vaccines in the news the past couple months, you might have got to wondering about your own.

Remember that card with a record of all of your shots on it? If you’re past your college days, it might’ve been a while since you’ve seen it – if you even have at all. If you didn’t tell your doctor at age 18 that you want Texas to keep that record electronically, chances are your records are gone, but some state lawmakers are trying to change that. 

On a recent lobby day with the Texas Medical Association in February, doctors in white coats flooded the Capitol building. They came from across the state, visiting lawmakers with a list of bills they’d like to see passed this year, and State Rep. Ken Sheets, R-Dallas, listened to them. 

"I’ve lots of vaccine issues, but my most important vaccine issue for this session is the ImmTrac issue," Dr. Lisa Swanson told him. 

A whole lot of Texans don’t know what ImmTrac is, let alone that there’s an issue with it, as Swanson said to Rep. Sheets. 

ImmTrac is the state’s electronic registry of vaccination records. Usually, parents of a baby give consent for a pediatrician to put vaccination records into ImmTrac – but what happens when that baby turns 18 worries Dr. Kimberly Avila Edwards, a pediatrician at Austin Regional Clinic in Kyle.  

At 18, patients in Texas have to give the state permission to keep their records in there. In other words, opt in. Edwards is worried about what happens when people don’t do that.

"Unfortunately those records are expunged," she says. 

Expunged, as in erased forever. Doctors aren’t optimistic that this opt-in process is a priority for 18 year olds. 

"You’re 18 – who cares? 'I’m 18, I’ve got one letter in the mail, I don’t know what it’s talking about, I’m busy off doing graduation stuff, I’m busy going off to college. I’m not really paying attention to it,'" Dr. Swanson said about the average 18-year-old's mindset before college.

Katie Wagner, a University of Texas at Austin student, says she did pay attention when she turned 18.

"My doctor told me about it and asked if I wanted to keep them, so I did keep them," Wagner said. "So that's how I know."

She says she chose to keep them in case a prospective employer asked Wagner, who’s 19 now, for her immunization records. Next to her, 19-year-old Jesus Garza said he didn't know about the opt-in registry, but still has his records on paper.

"I've always had the actual pamphlet at home and I'd always take it to the doctor's office, and I always had them check off," he said. "So legally if they had them and deleted them, I'm sure they're deleted but I had them personally."

Now, State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, wants to pass a bill that would change the system to opt-out. Meaning that once you’re in the system as an infant, your records will be kept unless you specifically opt out. A version of this bill passed out of the House last session but didn’t get a hearing in the Senate before the session wrapped up.

Almost all states in the U.S. have an opt-out registry, but State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, wants to keep the Texas system the way it is. She worries about expanding the role of the state in keeping people’s private records. At a public hearing last session, she raised this concern with Rep. Howard.

"That is a big issue in this state – should the burden be put on the private citizen or should the burden be put on government?" Rep. Laubenberg asked. 

The ImmTrac database does not keep people’s social security numbers. It has someone’s date of birth, gender and a list of vaccines and when they were given. Advocates say making it an opt-out registry helps avoid re-vaccinations. They point to situations like Hurricane Katrina – when people moved to Texas in the wake of the storm, doctors here were able to get that information from Louisiana.

Today, the House Public Health Committee will continue the discussion with the 2015 version of Howard’s bill, HB 465

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