The Idaho Senate approved a plan to change the state's medical database that tracks immunizations on a 31-3 vote. The measure would change the Immunization Reminder Information System (IRIS) from an opt-in service to an opt-out service. That means parents or people receiving immunizations would need to elect to not be part of the statewide database. Supporters say the switch will lead to a higher immunization rate in Idaho, which is currently among the lowest in the U.S.
"Over recent years, Idaho has ranked 50th or 51st - that includes the District of Columbia - in the nation," said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, who sponsored the legislation. She said the change would keep the immunization system voluntary and not affect parental autonomy. She held up an IRIS opt-out form on the Senate floor, showing that parents could avoid the program, if desired.
Lodge said the change to opt-out would keep Idaho children healthy. She said she missed lots of school when she was a child due to diseases that now have immunizations. "My grandchildren do not miss school because they have those immunizations. It's changed the health of our children." She said there has been a rise in pertussis and other vaccine-preventable diseases in Idaho due to low childhood immunization rates. "When we do not maximize our immunizations... we put all Idahoans at risk."
Sen. Shirley McKague, R-Meridian, said she received a letter from a constituent worried about the opt-in switch. "I am deeply concerned for my own privacy and the privacy of my children," McKague read from the letter. Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, also spoke against the program, saying he felt pressured to have his son immunized in what was supposed to be a voluntary program.
Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, responded to McKague by reading the word "voluntary" in the dictionary to stress that the program is not mandatory. "This is an excellent idea to help increase the immunization rate in our state," he said. He also said that Idaho's immunization rates for some diseases fall below those of Indonesia, Pakistan, Croatia, Botswana, Latvia, and Sri Lanka. "Those immunization rates are embarrassing," he said.