We were disappointed to read the opinion column about the Colorado Immunization Information System (CIIS) by Pam Long. Her column misrepresented CIIS, which provides an enormous benefit to Colorado’s families. Vaccines save many thousands of lives in the U.S. every year, and CIIS is a vital tool to maintain high immunization coverage and protect Colorado’s children from serious diseases. As pediatricians, we hope to set the record straight regarding the benefits that CIIS offers to Colorado families.
So what is an immunization information system? At its most basic level, an immunization information system is a single place where vaccination records are stored. So clear and tangible are the benefits, that all 50 states have created similar systems. In Colorado, participation in the system by medical providers is voluntary, and parents may opt out of having records entered into the system, although few parents choose to do so. Although participation is voluntary, the vast majority of primary care providers in Colorado participate in CIIS. We will describe why CIIS is such a great benefit for Colorado, from our perspectives both as pediatricians and as parents.
The biggest benefit of CIIS is to parents and children. Prior to the widespread use of immunization information systems, the burden was on parents to keep track of all of their children’s vaccines. What happened when a child moved to a new pediatrician or family physician? More often than not, no one would know which vaccines the child had received. If parents kept a paper record of vaccines, what would happen if the paper record was misplaced or lost? A child may be kept out of school, or may need to be revaccinated, if old records couldn’t be found. CIIS makes life so much easier for parents in the event of lost records, or whenever parents need to provide an updated immunization record, such as when starting child care, school, summer camp or even a sports team. Having vaccine records in one place can save parents multiple phone calls and trips to old providers to track down those records.
As pediatricians, CIIS allows us to deliver better care to children. In the “old days,” before Colorado had CIIS, we would often have to track down vaccination records to determine what vaccines a child needs. Because of CIIS, we are able to find all vaccination records in one place. This helps prevent children getting more vaccines than they need. Also, the childhood vaccination schedule changes relatively frequently, and CIIS incorporates those changes as they happen, so that providers can stay up-to-date on the most recent changes. CIIS helps everyone on the health care team (doctors, other providers, nurses and staff) know what should be given and when. Giving unneeded extra vaccinations because of missing records is a waste of money, not to mention the extra time it takes away from parents and the challenge of an unnecessary vaccine for a child. The added administrative burden that it would take for providers to operate without CIIS is a cost that would ultimately be borne by all Coloradans.
Vaccine-preventable diseases cost Colorado an estimated tens of millions of dollars every year. Controlling even one outbreak of a disease such as measles is very expensive, so systems like CIIS, which maintain high immunization rates, save Colorado money and prevent outbreaks.
The cost of a single outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease such as measles, as happened with the California Disneyland outbreak, would be far greater than what it costs to maintain CIIS. And this isn’t even considering the pain and suffering that such an outbreak would have on families in Colorado.
In this Information Age, it is right to be cognizant of how data is used. CIIS is used to safely and securely track all vaccines a child has received, so that providers and parents know what vaccines are needed and when. Although CIIS was certainly deserving of an award, because of its long-standing commitment to improving child health in Colorado, CIIS is hardly unique. Families move; children change providers; parents occasionally lose their child’s immunization records; infectious diseases are by their very nature contagious; for these practical reasons, all states have created immunization information systems. Common sense would dictate that parents and providers would want accurate information on which vaccines children have received in the past. Going back to a “paper only” system would be a disaster for Colorado’s families.