TMA Endorses the Receipt and Release of Adult Immunization Information During Disasters

Senate Health and Human Services Committee
Testimony on Senate Bill 347
March 3, 2009
Presented by the Texas Medical Association, Texas Pediatric Society, and Texas Academy of Family Physicians



Madame Chair and members of the Committee, it is a privilege for me to speak with you today on behalf of the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Pediatric Society (TPS), and the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, collectively representing more than 48,000 physicians in the state of Texas. My name is Jason Terk, MD, and I am a pediatrician in private practice in Keller. I currently serve as chair of the TPS Legislative Committee in addition to other leadership positions within these organizations.    

I am here today in support of Senate Bill 347, relating to the receipt and release of immunization information by the immunization registry in connection with a disaster. Texas has served as a gracious host to many adults and children who were forced to evacuate their communities because of natural disasters. Most notably are those individuals who sought shelter in the days and months following Hurricane Katrina's landfall in New Orleans, La. As I believe you will hear in more detail, the immunization experts in Houston and with the Texas Department of State Health Services did a tremendous job connecting immunization registries to ensure swift access to Louisiana-based vaccination data. However, when Hurricane Ike approached, Texans forced outside the state's borders were unable to access their data through the public health authorities in neighboring states. Texas law prevented it.

The ability to access immunization information during a natural or man-made disaster is imperative to ensure good public health for the state. The risk of disease outbreaks increases immediately following a disaster, especially as sewer and water systems are compromised and individuals are forced into close quarters. Timely access to immunization records is critical to ensure children and adults are protected against preventable illness. Without the ability to access the state's registry, there is a threat of delayed vaccination or over-vaccination. Although many have developed clear evacuation parameters for individuals living in hurricane-prone areas, there is little expectation that a family or first-responder will remember to throw their vaccination record in their safe box or back pocket on their way out of town. 

As a pediatrician, I want to emphasize the importance of the continuity of care for children in the aftermath of a traumatic event such as an evacuation - even if they only evacuate to grandma's house. The ability to pull up a child's vaccination record and pinpoint which vaccines are needed or which ones can be avoided because the child is up-to-date on their vaccines is truly invaluable. 

I again thank you on behalf of the physicians of the state for allowing me to testify in support of SB 347. We ask your favorable consideration of this bill.