Mass. Rolling Out Registry To Track Who Got Which Vaccines

In the United States, the flu season can range from November through March, and even past March in some years. Here, a CDC employee receives a flu vaccine from CDC Staff Nurse. (James Gathany/CDC)

 (James Gathany/CDC)

“Hello. Just for your information, Massachusetts is rolling out a statewide database that will track everybody’s vaccines — it’s expected within the next few months — and you can opt out if you want, but otherwise, it will keep track of which vaccines you’ve gotten.”

That shpiel was my assignment at our school’s flu vaccine clinic yesterday, and I dutifully reeled it off several hundreds times to people waiting in line for their shots and sprays. Most commonly, the response was an indifferent nod; a few people seemed downright pleased and grateful, and one — exactly one — person sounded incensed and asked for more information about opting out.

In case you, too, are potentially incensed, or just naturally curious, the new vaccine registry is called the Massachusetts Immunization Information System, and I’m happy to report that its helpdesk actually did answer helpfully and promptly when I just called its number, 617-983-4335. The registry has been in the process of enrolling health-care providers over the last couple of years, I was told, and now has about one-third of the state’s providers enrolled.

Also: The law that creates the registry stipulates that patients must be informed when their doctor starts sharing their vaccine information with the state, and can limit that sharing if they choose.

The Boston Globe wrote back in 2011 that Massachusetts, normally a frontrunner on public health issues, is oddly lagging on its vaccine registry. Public health reporter Kay Lazar wrote:

State lawmakers, facing opposition from insurers, failed for the past two years to act on the proposal, which would assess a fee on health insurance plans to raise the estimated $1 million to $2 million a year needed to run a registry.

But now insurers have dropped their opposition, and supporters, worried that federal funding for the project will dry up, have ratcheted up their lobbying for the state’s financial support, suggesting that, for the first time, Massachusetts will join the rest of the country with a registry that physicians say is essential.

Massachusetts and New Hampshire are the only states without statewide registries to track who gets vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Physicians have long pushed for a centralized registry, saying it will make it possible for busy parents to be notified when their children are due – or overdue – for vaccines.

The need, physicians say, is especially acute for lower-income families who may not have reliable access to routine medical care. Public health officials hope to use this registry for targeting education campaigns and other programs to promote vaccination in underserved areas.

One vaccine recipient asked me, “Why would I want to opt out?” And I could only hazard, “Privacy? Though you figure the NSA already knows which vaccines you get, so…” But seriously, readers, if anyone plans to opt out, could you explain why in the Comments below?

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  • J__o__h__n

    We shouldn’t let unvaccinated children go to public schools. Enough with pandering to the superstitious and conspiracy theorists at the risk of public health.

  • lizzilou who

    Many other states have had these registries for years and years, and physicians find them very useful in tracking a patient’s vaccine history without having to rely on (usually incomplete) patient memories or past records with various previous caregivers. Those registries (well, those in the states whose registries I’m familiar with) come with no implications or mandates that a person need be vaccinated, only what the recommended dates are should they choose to be, or the dates that they were received in the past. The access to those records is restricted to healthcare providers, so insurance companies and vaccine suppliers are not given access.

    Also, the woman in the picture ought to wear gloves when she gives injections.

  • fun bobby

    too bad they did not start by regulating the compounding pharmacies. why are people so trusting of government?

  • LauraCondon

    This registry is for marketing purposes for vaccine makers. How about Merck and company fund their own marketing program? Why should taxpayers have to pay for this? Vaccine makers already have pure profit with no liability for disability and death caused by their products.

  • Kat

    First it’s a vaccine registry, then it’s a medication and diagnosis
    registry… where does it end? When our kids are grown, who will the
    government deem appropriate to access it? Could potential sexual
    partners look you up on a database to ensure you’re not diagnosed with
    an STD before getting involved, just like we can arrest histories?
    Discrimination against unvaccinated individuals is already happening –
    some employers are firing those who don’t get vaccinated, schools are
    sending select kids home during outbreaks, neighbors are refusing to let
    their kids play with unvaccinated kids. These are personal health choices that government, corporations, employers, and schools should have no right to access it. And it’s no one else’s business if my religion, philosophy, or my private medical diagnosis prevents me from getting vaccinated.

  • Christina

    The registry is to keep track of those not vaccinating and follow through, hound, bully and use fear tactics to get parents to vaccinate. Don’t forget the data mining…

  • Mordred

    Maybe because we don’t want to have everybody spy on us? Not poison ourselves? Not poison our children?

  • Leann DiDomenico McAllister

    At our pediatric practice, parents have told me that they will opt out because they believe they and their children will be discriminated against if bosses and others learned that they choose not to vaccinate. At our practice we strongly recommend the CDC vaccine schedule, but are not willing to bully parents or kick families out who do not want to vaccinate. Administrating who wants in and who wants out is just another uncompensated task we, the provider community, are being forced to take on. My two cents: For public health reasons, no one should be allowed to opt out and anyone who discriminates can and should be held accountable by law. I think the politicians caved allowing an opt out for the very small, yet very loud minority.

    • makeupdiva

      I think it is no ones business if you vaccinate or not. If you believe in them then by all means get them for yourself and your children. Then you are protected right – after all that is why you chose to get them. So what does anyone care who doesn’t?

      • factbased

        I think it’s important to point out that the idea that it is only you or your children that are at risk if you choose not to vaccinate is fundamentally false. The well-studied concept of herd immunity demonstrates that high levels of immunization across a population afford protection to those who are not immune. This typically includes those that can’t be vaccinated because they are too young, are ill, or have weakened immune systems. By opting out of this social contract you actually put others at risk. Ironically, it is this very protection (generated by a population of people that actually do vaccinate) that probably keeps you or your unvaccinated child healthy. The topic was actually covered here a few months ago (http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2013/08/low-state-vaccine-rates).

      • Leann DiDomenico McAllister

        Not right. Herd immunity is needed to protect the most vulnerable in any given community.

        • factbased

          I don’t understand your point. Herd immunity protects the most vulnerable by surrounding them with a population of non-susceptible people, thus minimizing the ability of the pathogen to persist in the population and spread. Your clarification seems to support my first point, that this protection is only sustained when healthy people in the population are vaccinated. Highlighting that this protection most benefits the vulnerable should be a strong argument FOR healthy people getting vaccinated. My second point was simply that herd immunity protects unvaccinated people. People that are already vulnerable or susceptible to illness and can’t be vaccinated will need that protection more and benefit more from it, but it works on a population level and effects everyone.

          • Leann DiDomenico McAllister

            Sorry for the confusion, I was answering makeupdiva’s question, not yours, factbased.