Immunize Against Privacy Violations: Uphold Law
Sept. 15, 2002
By DAWN RICHARDSON and REBECCA REX
As parents, we can all relate to the challenges of teaching our children right from wrong. One
basic universal lesson from childhood is that you don't take something that doesn't belong to you
This fundamental ethical principal is the primary reason why the Texas Legislature overwhelmingly
passed and the governor signed a law requiring doctors to ask a parent's permission before they
release a child's confidential immunization record and enter it into a state government operated
immunization surveillance database.
Some health department employees and medical trade associations are alleging that fundamental
parental and medical privacy rights are a burden and not worth preserving. They want to gut the
current law and require that all doctors and insurance companies release every child's private
immunization record and identifying information to the Texas Department of Health without parental
knowledge or consent. Under their proposal, a written request by a parent directly to the state
agency to remove their child from the registry would trigger the child's information being moved to
yet a another TDH database of "non-consenters," still resulting in the tagging and
tracking of every single child. Even though there would be nothing a parent could do to stop the
unauthorized release of their child's records to TDH or to prevent their child from being included
in a TDH database, they are deceptively calling this proposal an "opt-out" system.
It gets worse. While registry proponents have been promising that the data is safe and secure,
for the last six years they have been stealing it behind our backs in total defiance of the current
Almost a year after the required informed consent law was passed, a legislative staffer who
personally worked on the legislation learned that his children were being tracked by TDH without his
permission. This prompted a senator's legislative inquiry, which revealed that 3.3 million Texas
children had been entered illegally by TDH. Personal information, including names, addresses and
parents' Social Security numbers, had been downloaded into the immunization database from the
child's confidential birth certificate records. Although a peace offering by the health commissioner
resulted in hundreds of thousands of these illegally obtained records being purged, many parents
have reported that even though they never gave consent, their children are still in the database and
their attempts to have their child's record removed have been unsuccessful.
It didn't stop there.
Today, TDH obtains what they consider to constitute positive "opt-in" informed consent
from a one millimeter-sized check box on the birth certificate application to which hospital staff
frequently check "yes" for the mother who is busy delivering her baby at the time the form
is filled out. Parents who have known to ask for the form to consciously look and check off
"no" on registry consent question 19(b) have reported that hospital staff sometimes will
even retype their form and change the answer to yes. These subversive tactics are the way that TDH
is able to make the highly questionable claim that all these parents "want" to participate
in the registry.
The public needs to know that the reasoning of those who are attacking our current
"opt-in" law is weak; as weak as their efforts have been to follow it.
For example, we don't have an immunization rate problem; we have bureaucrats with a self-serving
math deficiency. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention immunization surveys cited include
more doses of vaccines than our state law requires, so even when children are fully immunized
according to the law in Texas, they don't count. The truth is that when looking at individual rates
for individual vaccines, we are already in the 80 and 90 percentiles for 2-year-olds and in the high
90 percentile overall for kids entering kindergarten.
In fact, gutting the existing parental consent provisions would put parents who care about
medical privacy in the position of having to choose between having their kids vaccinated or keeping
their children's medical records out of an intrusive government database. That can only have a
negative affect on immunization rates.
Just as many parents don't want the state tracking and micromanaging their health-care choices
for their children, many private practice doctors have no interest in having their practices watched
and their performance delivering vaccines rated. We've spoken with many doctors who feel they can
keep track of a child's records just fine and don't want or need any help from TDH. Forcing a doctor
to release the confidential medical record of a child against the will of a parent will drive a
wedge of mistrust in a relationship crucial to the health of the child.
Since the only way TDH is willing to populate a statewide immunization tracking system is through
deceit and brute force, maybe it doesn't need to exist at all. Certainly the legislature should not
reward unethical and illegal behavior with more power and control. They should look for ways to make
TDH and doctors follow the existing law. In the meantime, do you know where your children's medical
Richardson and Rex are co-founders of Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education (PROVE)