U.S. Representatives Kim Schrier, M.D. (D-WA), John Joyce, M.D. (R-PA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and David McKinley, P.E. (R-WV) today introduced the Strengthening the Vaccines for Children Program Act that will build on and improve the successful Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. The VFC program helps ensure all children receive recommended vaccines by providing no-cost immunizations. Almost half of all childhood vaccines are provided through the VFC program.
“I am excited to introduce this important bipartisan bill that will help to keep our children safe and healthy,” said Rep. Schrier. “As a pediatrician, I know how important routine immunizations are to keep children safe, which is why it is so concerning that some routine immunizations are down nearly 30% during the pandemic. This could lead to epidemics and outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, like the measles. As we reopen schools and the economy, it will be imperative to get children up-to-date on routine vaccinations and be ready to immunize all children when they are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.”
The Strengthening the Vaccines for Children Program Act of 2021 will:
- Improve patient access and care by expanding VFC eligibility to cover more children at more locations
- Incentivize provider participation in the program and alleviate operational burdens
- Expand vaccine counseling and education reimbursement to combat vaccine hesitancy
- Track immunizations to better understand disparities and find pockets of under-vaccination
- Encourage public understanding of the benefits of immunization
“Vaccines are the safest way to eradicate disease, prevent suffering, and protect our communities. From the polio vaccine developed at the University of Pittsburgh to the measles and smallpox vaccines, widespread inoculation has saved lives for generations – making a significant difference for children and families. The Strengthening the Vaccines for Children Program Act is commonsense, bipartisan legislation that will bolster families’ access to lifesaving vaccines and protect American children from preventable illness, promoting healthier and safer communities across our country,” said Congressman Joyce.
“Seattle Indian Health Board supports this bill because it seeks to ensure equitable access to child immunizations, as well as access to important data that would allow tribal and urban Indian communities to improve infant and child health outcomes,” said Abigail Echo-Hawk, executive vice-president of Seattle Indian Health Board and director of its research division, the Urban Indian Health Institute. “For too long, Tribal Epidemiology Centers have not been given fair access to public health data despite their status as public health authorities, limiting our ability to address public health crises,” said Esther Lucero (Diné), President & CEO, Seattle Indian Health Board.
“I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Strengthening the Vaccines for Children Program Act. The VFC program was created to ensure that no child was left without access to critical vaccinations due to an inability to pay. This bill includes commonsense, but highly impactful, policies to expand access to VFC to more children and make it easier for them to get their vaccinations. The bill also incentivizes providers to participate and assists states in bolstering their VFC programs. These changes will help ensure that the VFC program continues to fulfill its mission to keep our nation’s children safe and healthy,” said Congressman Butterfield.
“Expanding access to childhood vaccinations is important to ensure the well-being of children across the nation. When a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is approved for children, Congress needs to ensure that there are minimal barriers for children to be able to receive the vaccine,” said Rep. McKinley. “This bill builds upon the current Vaccines for Children Program to bolster our vaccine delivery system and support primary care physicians to ensure no child has to suffer from vaccine-preventable diseases.”
“I applaud Congresswoman Schrier and Congressman Joyce for introducing this legislation to improve child access to routine immunizations,” said Dr. Shaquita Bell, interim medical director of Seattle Children’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic. “We witnessed first-hand at the Seattle Children’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic the toll the pandemic took on families, causing significant disruption to routine preventive care. At Seattle Children’s, we’re united by our mission to help every child live the healthiest more fulfilling life. The VFC Bill addresses a critical need to strengthen equitable access to the care kids need to thrive, and the care they deserve.”
“Since its introduction, the Vaccines for Children program has been a key contributor to the success of childhood immunization programs, leading to significant improvements and reduced disparities in immunization rates,” said Kristen A. Feemster, M.D., Director of Research for the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “However, gaps in immunization coverage persist and have only been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. This bill will help ensure that the VFC program can effectively continue its important work to close coverage gaps and maintain healthy communities for children and families.”
“During the pandemic, we have seen a troubling decline in routine childhood immunizations, leaving children and communities at risk for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses. Right now, we need to act to make our pediatric vaccine delivery system stronger than ever, especially as we look ahead to when a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely available to children. The Vaccines for Children program successfully provides vaccines for half of all American children and this bill would further bolster the program at a critical time, helping to ensure children can receive vaccinations in their medical home without families facing financial or administrative barriers. It also helps ensure that providers are able to take the time they need to educate and counsel parents about the safety of vaccines, which is especially crucial in reducing vaccine hesitancy. The American Academy of Pediatrics applauds Representatives Kim Schrier, MD, FAAP (D-Wash.), John Joyce, MD (R-Pa.), G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.) for their leadership and dedication to supporting and promoting childhood vaccinations, and we urge Congress to immediately advance this vital legislation,” said American Academy of Pediatrics President Lee Savio Beers, MD, FAAP.