New Hampshire has joined the rest of the country by authorizing an immunization registry, a record of vaccinations that health officials say is valuable to combating outbreaks of contagious diseases.
Marcella Bobinsky, acting director of public health, pointed to a 2013 outbreak in Vermont of whopping cough, or pertussis, as an example.
“We were scrambling in the immunization program to go back into any records that we had, to look at all the schools up and down the Connecticut River to make sure the kids were protected with pertussis vaccine,” she said Thursday. “We did that by hand, calling schools. It took us about a week to make that happen, talk to all the nurses. With a registry we could have gone in and looked at that within an hour, maybe two.”
New Hampshire has had a law allowing such a registry since 1998. But one was never created, partly because of lack of money and concerns about privacy, although for a while the state shared a registry with Maine in an cross-border program called ImmPact.
Patients who don’t want to be listed on this registry can ask to be removed. That provision, known as an opt-out, was the subject of much discussion last year when the Legislature approved the immunization registry. An alternative 2015 bill sought to create an “opt-in” registry, in which patients had to ask to be listed – a provision that health officials said would make the registry almost useless. Only two states have opt-in vaccination registries.
New Hampshire was left as the only state without a registry in 2011, when Massachusetts finally established its statewide vaccination database.
The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services said a registry can also help people avoid duplicate immunizations, “especially when a patient may be seen in another health care practice, an emergency room, or an urgent care center,” and can track vaccine lots by location in case there is a problem. It will also make it easier for people to get their own immunization records for work, school or travel.
The final move in allowing the registry came this week when the Joint Legislative Committee for Administrative Rules approved the rules under which the Immunization Information System will operate.
“Now we have to get back to the technology, working with medical providers, health systems – give them the information, specifications that is required for them to interact with our registry with their (electronic medical records),” Bobinsky said. The registry will include all past vaccinations for which records are available.
In the coming months, doctors and other health care providers will be contacting their patients about the registry, giving the option to not be included.
State staff estimate that hosting and maintaining the system will cost $215,000 a year.
(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)