Immunization Reminders Sent On Postcards Spark Controversy

Proposed Legislation Would Ban Postcards Which Might Reveal Immunization Status

a child getting the flu shot
In this Jan. 23, 2020, photo, a syringe with influenza vaccine inside heads for its mark during a flu vaccination at Eastfield College in Mesquite, Texas. A second wave of flu is hitting the U.S., turning this season into one of the nastiest flu seasons for kids in a decade. LM Otero/AP Photo

Childhood immunizations dropped dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to boost them by sending out postcard reminders has prompted an effort to change state law on how some medical information should be sent through the mail.

A bill authored by two GOP lawmakers would require sealed envelopes — not postcards sometimes used by health departments, schools or medical providers — to send out vaccine information.

“Imagine you receive a postcard, or a flyer open to the public, that discusses a need for a specific prescription or appointment with a specialist. These types of postcards exist for vaccine status,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, as she testified Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Legal Review and Consumer Protection.

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While the bill is aimed at information delivered by mail that could disclose immunization status, there have been privacy lapses regarding other medical information sent to patients.

In 2017, the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health sent out a survey about family planning services to 1,000 patients by postcard. The information from the UW Department of Family Medicine and Community Health contained names and mailing addresses along with prescription medications.

Postcards are cheaper than other forms of mail sent by the U.S. Postal Service and are often used by government agencies and health systems to notify residents and patients about various issues.

In 2019, Public Health Madison and Dane County sent postcards to all parents with children between 15 and 18 months to remind them of routine vaccinations recommended by pediatricians, said department spokesperson Morgan Finke. She said they have not sent any postcards out in the last year and a half because staff was tied up with the pandemic, but they do plan on calling parents with kids over the next few months in an effort to bring more children under age 2 up to date with their shots. Finke said when postcards were sent, they did not target those behind in their immunizations but went to all parents with young children.

The vaccine mail bill authored by Bernier and Rep. Shae Sortwell, of Two Rivers, passed the Assembly earlier this month largley along party lines. It’s supported by groups that oppose vaccines.