Idaho lawmakers are trying to improve the state’s low vaccination rate by switching the state’s immunization database from an opt-in system, in which parents sign up for the program, to an opt-out, in which parents would have to sign a form to avoid being part of the database. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee Tuesday approved the switch from opt-in to opt-out for the Idaho Immunization Reminder Information System (IRIS). The Idaho Immunization Program, which is part of the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW), manages the computerized records.
“This is something that will help so many parents,” said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, who is sponsoring the legislation with Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell. She said IRIS should make it easier for parents to keep track of their kids’ immunizations and could lead to young children being healthier and missing fewer days of school. The proposal came out of a health care task force that also is backing a new universal pool for purchasing childhood vaccines.
Parents would still have the option of refusing to have the children immunized or, if they allow them to be immunized, could keep them out of the IRIS database. Idaho Medical Association CEO Susie Pouliot said switching to an opt-out system is one of the best tools to increase immunization rates in the state, which currently ranks at or near the bottom in national studies. “The physicians of Idaho and other health care groups strongly support this legislation,” she said. Idaho is one of five states with an opt-in system, according to Pouliot. As medical records transition from paper to electronic, she said it’s becoming more costly for Idaho doctors and state agencies, since most medical software isn’t built for the state’s opt-out IRIS system.
“We’ll be able to make this system much more useful, not just for parents, but also providers,” said Rebecca Coyle, program director for the Idaho Immunization Program. She said medical software compatibility is an issue but also said that it takes time for doctors to gain consent from parents and to store those consent forms. She said currently parents of 85 percent of children that are immunized opt-in to IRIS, but that going to an opt-out system could bring that to 100 percent.
Erik Makrush with the Idaho Freedom Foundation voiced concern with the change during the committee meeting. Makrush said the opt-in program is working well, and that IRIS was created as a voluntary system. “We have concerns that this could become more of a government program,” he said. He argued the change could affect parents' rights. IdahoReporter.com is funded by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, but takes no position on any matter before the Legislature.
McGee stressed during the meeting that even with the switch, IRIS would still voluntary with the changes. Coyle said that the state already has opt-out forms printed and procedures in place for parents or individuals who wish to take their names and records out of IRIS.