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Utah lawmaker seeks stronger state database to help patients find vaccination data

Granite School District teachers and staff wait in line to receive the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine at Hunter Junior High School in West Valley City on Friday, Jan.15, 2021.
Granite School District teachers and staff wait in line to receive the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine at Hunter Junior High School in West Valley City on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed bill in Utah could strengthen the state’s vaccine database to help patients and their doctors learn which vaccines they’ve gotten and when.

Currently, data often gets lost in the Utah Statewide Immunization Information System — or it doesn’t get entered at all, said bill sponsor Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, who is a doctor by trade.

He said he recently treated a patient who came in for a wellness visit and wanted to get a shingles vaccine. The patient thought they had received one within the past three to seven years but couldn’t remember when. They also didn’t know whether it was the new or old version of the shingles vaccine, Ward told members of the House Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday.

When he looked into the state database, Ward said he found no record of the vaccine.

“So what should I do for this patient? Should I give them zero doses, or one dose, or two doses?” Ward said, explaining that it’s a problem he often encounters.

“New vaccines cost $150 a pop. But since we don’t have accurate information about how many we’re giving, we know we’re giving some duplicates,” Ward explained, estimating that excess vaccines being given in the state likely carry a hefty price.

HB117 would require all vaccine providers to register with the Utah Statewide Immunization Information System and report all vaccines administered except for those for which the patient opts out of participating in the program.

Most vaccine providers already say they report data to the state database, according to Ward, but data often can’t be found. And no one can explain it, he said.

The bill would require the Utah Department of Health to more closely track data and potentially hire staff members to ensure data is coming through to the database.

Some residents who commented on the bill over videoconference said they were concerned about privacy issues the database could cause and potential ramifications for those who choose not to get certain vaccines.

But Ward said the bill doesn’t change whether a patient’s vaccination information makes it into the state database or not. When any provider gives a vaccine, they need to tell the patient they can opt out of the state database. If they change their mind later, they can fill out a form to have their information removed from the database. The bill also wouldn’t require any additional information to be given to the database, Ward said, nor would it change who can access the information.

“I’m just referring to who is already giving vaccines today that we have staff available to check to make sure that it gets put where the patient wants it,” Ward said.

He said the COVID-19 vaccine did not prompt him to propose the bill — it’s been a long-running issue. But that vaccine is an example of why accurate information needs to be stored in the state. Many who get the vaccine will later need to know which vaccine they got and how many doses, Ward said.

Rep. Rosemary Lesser, D-Ogden, said the bill is important now because “this is the largest number of immunizations that are being given in Utah, in this year.”

The state will need to collect information as it vaccinates upward of 2 million people, Lesser noted.

Michelle McOmber, chief executive director of the Utah Medical Association, said pharmacy chains like Walgreens often report vaccines in their own system.

“So it exacerbates the problem when doctors don’t know if someone has received a vaccine,” McOmber said, adding that “we need to have that in a central place.”

Maryann Martindale, executive director of the Utah Academy of Family Physicians, said that especially as many move to different areas more than they have in the past, it’s not typical to have the same doctor throughout their life. Doctors need to be able to track what vaccines their patients have been given by other doctors or pharmacies.

The bill received a favorable recommendation from the committee and will move to a vote in the full Senate.