August 10, 2023

On this day in 1993 Congress establishes law to establish Vaccines for Children program

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023 with a look back at remarkable accomplishments and significant moments in public health history. In this guest blog post, NFID Past President Walter A. Orenstein, MD, reflects on the 30th anniversary of the Vaccines for Children program, which was established during his term as director of the National Immunization Program.

Between 1989 and 1991, there was a serious measles resurgence in the US with more than 55,000 cases reported, more than 11,000 hospitalizations, and 123 deaths. A major cause of the resurgence was a large number of preschool children who had not been vaccinated against measles.

Investigations showed that vaccine cost was a major impediment to preschool children getting vaccinated, particularly those who were uninsured. The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program was enacted to remove cost as a barrier to vaccine access for uninsured children, as well as those on Medicaid and American Indian/Alaska Native populations. The VFC program also facilitated the vaccination of children within their medical home (pediatrician’s office or other local setting), where they could receive other necessary preventive services at the same time.

VFC benefitted not only children who were covered by the program, but also the country as a whole, since it led to higher levels of vaccination—ultimately resulting in the elimination of measles in the US by 2000. By stopping transmission of measles, the successful vaccination program helped protect the overall population, including those who could not be vaccinated because of medical contraindications by ensuring that they were not exposed to the virus.

In addition, VFC enabled the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a committee of experts who advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on immunization policy, to see their recommendations automatically translated into action.

The Lifesaving Impact of the VFC Program

By helping to ensure that all US children have access to vaccines, the VFC program has had a profound impact on children’s lives and overall public health. According to CDC estimates, vaccination of children born since the VFC program began (between 1994-2021) will help prevent:

  • 472 million illnesses
  • Nearly 30 million hospitalizations
  • More than 1 million deaths

Additionally, CDC estimates that VFC has helped save nearly $2.2 trillion in total societal costs, including $479 billion in direct costs.

Increasing outreach and knowledge of the VFC program to vulnerable communities is crucial to addressing the disparities in childhood immunization rates. Share these free VFC program resources from NFID and CDC to help ensure everyone stays up to date on all recommend vaccines:

Professor Sara Rosenbaum, who played an instrumental role in designing the VFC program, will be honored at the National Vaccine Law Conference (NVLC) on September 13, 2023. Along with the NFID 50th Anniversary Gala on September 14, 2023, these 2 Washington, DC events will celebrate the historic successes of public health, with prominent leaders and experts.

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