Congressional Leaders: Vaccines Save Lives

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By Alex Ruoff

The lawmakers who oversee key public health agencies expressed unequivocal support for the science behind vaccine safety in a Feb. 21 letter.

The letter, sent to members of Congress, was a definitive signal from senior lawmakers that the safety of vaccines is unquestionable, L.J. Tan, chief strategy officer for the Immunization Action Coalition, told Bloomberg BNA. The Republican and Democratic heads of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee signed the letter.

“The science is clear: FDA-licensed vaccines are proven to be safe and effective, and save the lives of both those who receive them and vulnerable individuals around them,” the lawmakers said in the letter.

Groups working to educate Americans about vaccines like the IAC are concerned about the federal government’s commitment to some federal vaccine programs after reports that President Donald Trump and his team have repeatedly met with people who claim there’s a connection between childhood vaccines and autism. These groups are keeping a close eye on how the administration and Congress fund vaccine programs in coming years, Tan said.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a long-time environmentalist, told reporters in January he had met with Trump to discuss starting a federal committee to examine vaccine safety, specifically to see if some vaccines could cause autism, a claim that emerged from a since-debunked study. Trump officials have since said no decision has been made about such a committee.

Trump himself has expressed skepticism about the safety of vaccines, which has worried many public health advocates. Some worry that if the president questions the safety of vaccines, it will prompt more parents to resist vaccinating their children, contrary to recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There’s a public opinion effect when someone senior in the administration is questioning the safety of vaccines,” Kevin Campbell, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 21.

Financial Commitment

Vaccine advocates this year will keep a close watch on the Trump administration’s commitment to federal vaccine programs, namely the CDC program that helps vaccinate the children of poor Americans.

The federal government plays a large role in vaccinating American children, particularly poor and uninsured children, Tan said. Since 1994, the federal government has paid for vaccines for children of families who cannot afford the treatment.

However, there is an annual battle between advocates and appropriators over how much money is needed to support the vaccination program, known as the 317 Program. In 2016, appropriators funded the program at roughly $610 million, well below the CDC’s request of $930 million, according to agency budget documents.

Much of the funding goes to ensure vaccines are available to pediatricians around the country.

Tan said his group hopes the Trump administration will make a similar request for more funding for the 317 Program and that Congress supports more funding for vaccine deployment in 2017 and 2018.

“This would be walking to the talk for us,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kendra Casey Plank at kcasey@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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