Texas needs an immunization registry that does what it’s supposed to do

Imagine you need to get somewhere quickly and safely. You call your ride-sharing company who sends Fred Flintstone in his family car. Not what you had in mind and not what you paid for. The Texas Immunization Registry, ImmTrac2, is not quite a stone-age vehicle for sharing our vital immunization records, but in its present form, it certainly is not what Texans have in mind or what we paid for.

The Texas Department of State Health Services consolidates and stores our individual vaccine records from healthcare providers, pharmacies, public health clinics, Medicaid claims administrators and the vital statistics unit of DSHS. Texas launched ImmTrac2 in 2017 to replace the legacy system, to enhance functionality, and to improve exchange of electronic health record data. Texas, however, is one of four states requiring “opt-in.” This means parents and adults must fill out and submit a consent form when they get their first vaccination, but sometimes they must repeat the process the next time because their provider cannot access their information in the registry. Data in, but not always data out. 

 Cumbersome, yes. Inefficient, yes. A waste of provider time and taxpayer dollars, absolutely, especially as we try to vaccinate Texans against COVID-19. As of today, approximately 10% of Texans have received their vaccinations, but the daily entry of that data stretches the abilities of people and technology to keep up to keep us safe. And here’s why. Ideally, your provider would submit your opt-in consent and vaccination information at the same time. However, Texas created electronic consent codes that conflict with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention national functional standards. The result: healthcare providers cannot directly input this medical information into ImmTrac2. Instead, providers and their staff work overtime creating spreadsheets they send to Austin, which DSHS staff physically enter into the registry. Anyone who has worked with data and spreadsheets can see the many opportunities for data entry errors and delays on the side of the registry. Also, many providers fax private information because that is the only method available to them.

 Under the current system, everyone works harder, not smarter, to get around the registry’s artificial barriers. We are happy to say help may be on the way thanks to bipartisan leadership and Texas tenacity. Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), and Sens. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) filed legislation to streamline the registry so it will do what it is supposed to do. 

 Their companion bills, HB 325 and SB 468, switch off the conflicting codes to allow for easy and efficient entry of vaccine information. The bills also strengthen privacy protections and provide a simple way to opt-out permanently.

 Easy in, easy out. Sometimes, though, easy solutions require hard decisions. These legislative champions have worked for more than a decade to fix the registry. Now, they need our help to make ImmTrac2 fully functional. They need us to ask our legislators to support this historic bipartisan legislation that will give Texans the immunization registry we expect and deserve. The irony is that the virus that is killing us may be the proverbial shot in the arm that motivates legislators to do what is right to save lives today and for generations to come.

 Allison N. Winnike, J.D., is the President and CEO of The Immunization Partnership, a statewide non-profit organization that aims to create a community free from vaccine-preventable diseases by educating the community, advocating for evidence-based public policy, and supporting immunization best practices.