AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the world pushes to find a vaccine to treat COVID-19, some immunization experts believe Texas is inadequately prepared to execute a mass vaccination event when one arrives.
But an underutilized state registry could be the answer if improvements are made.
The Texas Immunization Registry contains the vaccination records for 9.1 million Texans, according to the Texas Dept. of State Health Services. With further adoption and reforms, experts believe it would allow the state to strategically deploy a COVID-19 vaccine to communities that need it most.
Dr. Melanie Mouzoon, the managing physician for immunization practices at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in Houston, said the platform’s greatest flaw is requiring patients to ‘opt-in,’ rather than ‘opt-out.’
“[The registry] doesn’t do a very effective job of helping the public health sector decide who to vaccinate, where to prioritize vaccines, what cities may need to be prioritized over others,” Mouzoon said. “All of that information is lacking.”
The Texas Immunization Registry is free and is most commonly used to track pediatric records. Another ‘opt-in’ is required when a child turns 18.
State Rep. Donna Howard, (D-Austin), has fought for reforms to the state’s immunization registry for more than a decade. She said concerns from anti-vaccination groups, and those fearing a privacy intrusion, have held up any progress.
Now, she said, is the opportunity to make a change.
“There are multiple firewalls within the state registry system,” Howard said. “You can’t even access your own records. Only certain identified folks that have permission can access it.”
Rekha Lakshmmanan, director of advocacy and public policy at The Immunization Partnership, said it’s time for state policymakers to listen to science rather than a vocal minority that has held up efforts to reform the registry.
“It is really important to help deploy resources and support our public health officials to better understand and meet the public health challenges,” Lakshmanan said.
The Texas Dept. of State Health Services, which operates the registry, did not respond to an interview request for this story.