It’s a strange irony that the state’s system for tracking immunization rates among children is actually contributing to the decline in childhood vaccines, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Iowa.

It’s time Iowans demand a better system.

Iowa’s Immunization Registration Information System, or IRIS, is the state’s way to track the number of children immunized against various diseases. Data kept by the system should specify which immunizations kids have had, how many have received exemptions, and be categorized by county, age and other filters.

That’s how it works in theory. But the reality is a far inferior system.

Members of the Dubuque County Board of Health say the IRIS data coming from the state is often unreliable, creating a false snapshot of local immunization rates.

In fact, Dubuque County’s immunization rates are higher than the state reports.

Sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it?

Here’s the problem: Parents choosing not to vaccinate children — while problematic and troubling — is a growing trend. In making the decision as to whether to vaccinate, parents consult the data. They might conclude, for example, that even though Dubuque County has a lower vaccination rate, there’s been no outbreak of preventable diseases, and therefore the vaccines must not be necessary.

It’s a grossly flawed assumption on a couple of levels — one of which is the fact that this area does not, in fact, have a low vaccination rate. Last year, the county’s immunization rate was 94%. But what the state reported was a rate of 61%, a significant difference.

That’s because IRIS publishes its data based on what’s reported, and not every provider enters data. In Iowa, health care providers are not required to update IRIS when they immunize a patient. While most do, the lack of a mandate leaves IRIS data incomplete and creates an inaccurate picture.

Area representatives in the Iowa House Shannon Lundgren and Lindsay James have vowed to work together to address the discrepancy. Lundgren said via social media that the pair “will be working in a bipartisan fashion to make changes so that the system is being used and Iowa data is available and accurate.”

That’s exactly what’s needed.

The anti-vaccination trend in this country is alarming. School officials in the tri-state area report that more families are requesting exemption from the vaccination requirement. In Clayton County, for example, nearly 15% of kindergartners’ parents requested exemptions. That’s a startling figure knowing how vulnerable it makes other members of a community.

After going years without a single case of measles reported in Iowa, this year, there have been two. Meanwhile, other areas of the country are seeing outbreaks in record-breaking numbers.

Much of the burden lies with parents to look at the science, talk to a medical professional and do what is right by vaccinating children in the name of public health. But state officials have a role to play, also.

Iowa officials must do a better job accurately reporting immunization rates so that parents can make informed decisions. Young lives depend on it.

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