Hearings Highlight Vaccine Access, Knowledge, Policy Gaps
With evidence that the number of measles cases and outbreaks this year is already well on track to exceed last year’s numbers, today’s Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing is drawing urgent attention to a central tenet of public health: vaccines save lives.
Backed by decades of scientific data demonstrating their safety and efficacy, vaccines are some of the most rigorously tested and observed public health interventions and are among the greatest tools we have for preventing disease.
As last week’s House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the growing public health threat of measles also highlighted, lack of knowledge, lack of access, and gaps in policy are allowing the life-saving tool of immunization to be under-used, and even actively avoided. These gaps come at great, unnecessary and, in recent years, increasing, cost to our society’s most vulnerable members, including our children.
With 17 outbreaks leading to 372 cases of measles, last year saw the second highest number of cases in this decade. The third month of 2019 finds six outbreaks across the country, including in a New York City community where vaccination rates are low, in the state of Washington, which has declared a state of emergency, in Texas, a state with one case in 2017, eight cases last year, and seven cases already this year.
These numbers may seem negligible when compared to those during the decade before 1963 when nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age, and an estimated 3 to 4 million people in the United States were infected each year. It’s important to remember that during that time an estimated 400 to 500 people died each year, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 suffered encephalitis because of measles. Overall, it is estimated that vaccines save the lives of an estimated 42,000 children each year in the United States. The CDC-recommended vaccine schedule makes that possible. In addition, the Vaccines for Children program, which provides immunizations to children in the United States who are unable to afford them, has saved nearly $259 billion in direct medical costs in the last 25 years.
IDSA supports laws requiring CDC recommended immunizations for children. On the frontlines of outbreaks, our membership believes exemptions to immunization requirements should only be granted for medical contraindications.
In addition, we will continue to urge robust funding for the Vaccines for Children program, for CDC immunization efforts, and for public health outreach to ensure that our communities realize the full benefits of vaccines.