Groups that educate doctors about vaccines were pleased when several key lawmakers expressed support for the science behind vaccine safety recently. But, they say the real test will come in the next federal budget.
Several lawmakers who oversee the nation’s public health agencies sent a letter to their colleagues Feb. 21 declaring that the safety of vaccines is unquestionable. The move was a signal from senior members of both parties that Congress won’t even bring up the issue, L.J. Tan, chief strategy officer for the Immunization Action Coalition, told me recently.
Two Democratic congressional staffers told me lawmakers are troubled by what they see as skepticism from the Trump administration about the safety of vaccines. Republican staffers said the letter was routine.
Groups 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.
Specifically, they’re looking at how much money Trump and Republicans commit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for distributing vaccines to poor children and adults, Tan said.
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 after the relevant section of the Public Health Service Act. 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.
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