Undercutting the immunization program puts both lives and dollars at risk

Undercutting the immunization program puts both lives and dollars at risk
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On Monday, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSecret Service members who helped organize Pence Arizona trip test positive for COVID-19: report Trump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Iran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report MORE released his proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget. It notes an impressive achievement: For every $1 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) spends on preventing fraud and abuse, the agency saves $5.

Whenever you can spend money to save money in government, it’s a no brainer for policymakers. Unfortunately, that rationale seems to have escaped the President on the issue of vaccination.

For every $1 we spend on childhood vaccines, we save $10.10, which is nearly double the savings of preventing fraud. The vaccines given to children born over the past two decades will result in a savings of $360 billion in direct and nearly $1.65 trillion in societal costs.


The benefits don’t end with children. The U.S. still spends nearly $26.5 billion annually treating adults over the age of 50 for just four diseases that could be prevented by vaccines: influenza, pertussis, pneumococcal disease and shingles.

The majority of these avoidable costs are borne by federal health insurance programs. Yet for the second year in a row, the President has proposed gutting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Immunization Program.

This is not just a discussion of dollars saved. It’s also a matter of lives saved. Over the past 23 years the Vaccines for Children program has prevented 381 million illnesses, 855,000 early deaths and 25 million hospitalizations, but we have much more work to do.

Each year, families across the nation are left to grieve the loss of over 100 children and thousands of adults to influenza and its complications. In fact, influenza and pneumonia are still among the top ten killers of adults in the U.S., and regular underinvestment in public health, results in an inability to ensure that Americans are protected from influenza.

In a flu season that has already resulted in the deaths of 63 children and scores of adults, our nation’s hospitals are at maximum capacity and supplies of medication and equipment are lacking. A certain sign of a crack in our health infrastructure.

Sadly, while influenza response is today’s challenge, our country has recently dealt with outbreaks of measles in California, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Washington.

Since 2014, over 1,000 cases of measles have occurred in the U.S. The CDC estimates that it costs approximately $140,000 to contain each case of measles; and every single measles case requires follow up.

Measles acts as the “canary in the coal mine.” Because the disease is so highly contagious, when measles immunization rates begin to slip below 95 percent, we begin to see outbreaks. It is often the first sign of other serious vaccine-preventable outbreaks.

Pertussis, better known as whooping cough, and mumps outbreaks are also on the rise, and several universities in the U.S. have experienced outbreaks of meningococcal serogroup B disease, a devastating illness that causes lifelong debilitation or death.

Lack of funding for our nation’s vaccine infrastructure leaves us even more susceptible to emerging threats such as natural disasters, a flu pandemic, and the Ebola virus. The CDC’s immunization program is the backbone of this system, supporting the critical activities that ensure our nation’s health.

We all rely upon the critical infrastructure and operations funded through the CDC to effectively serve millions of families each year. Without that support, we face a critical backsliding in our efforts that could result in the needless loss of life.

The State of the ImmUnion report to Congress outlines just how precarious our nation’s immunization capacity is and how legislators can best support immunization programs nationwide.

We and the public health community urge Congress to support the CDC’s Immunization Program to the fullest extent possible. In order to truly effect change, the program requires $1.03 billion. It’s a hefty sum until you consider the heftier return: $10.10 for every $1 spent Diseases know no barriers. Proper immunization funding is an investment in both future generations and the federal budget.

Amy Pisani is the executive director of Every Child By Two, which is a nonprofit organization committed to reducing the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases in families and individuals.