There has clearly been a political awakening in this country and people are once again motivated to make their voices heard in regard to political policies. When it comes to protecting our nation’s health and maintaining our personal freedoms, there are plenty of differences in opinion.
In a recent VaxTalk podcast hosted by Voices for Vaccines, Every Child By Two Board Member Sarah Depres and Immunize Texas member Jinny Su, discuss the potential impact proposed federal and state policies could have on the health of our nation and our local communities. More importantly, they explain how everyday citizens are being encouraged to actively engage with their legislators on these issues.
Federal Policies and Their Impact on the Prevention of Disease
To start, Ms. Depres explains how the American Healthcare Act and the President’s proposed budget may impact the availability, accessibility and affordability of immunization services across the country. While these policies are still evolving, she comments that the proposed plans suggest significant budget cuts will be made to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These two federal agencies are currently responsible for the majority of federal immunization programs and vaccine oversight. A reduction in their operating budgets will likely have a significant and fairly immediate impact on things such as vaccine safety and oversight, disease surveillance, outbreak response, scientific evaluation of effective immunization practices and research that helps us to understand what interventions work to improve vaccination rates across the U.S..
While some may argue that we can save money by streamlining budgets and consolidating programs, there is a larger concern that must be addressed and it has to do with state level immunization programs. The fact is that the collective work of these agencies has a direct impact on individual state efforts to provide good immunization services to the public. Not only do states benefit from the large-scale research and oversight that the federal government conducts on vaccines, but a large portion of these federal funds trickle down to assist states in their specific efforts to prevent outbreaks that can easily cross state lines. As Ms. Depres explains, infectious diseases have no borders and it is therefore unrealistic and, quite frankly, unacceptable, to put the bulk of responsibility on the states when they are not in the same position that the federal government is to fund large scale programs that we know benefit the country and its citizens as a whole.
Take the state of Nevada as an example. Nevada continues to rank at the bottom of the list for public health spending with just $4.10 per capita and they also happen to be a state with some of the lowest immunization rates in the U.S. In comparison, Idaho, their neighbor to the northeast, spends as much as $94.70 per capita. When The Affordable Care Act was established, it included the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) to sustain and expand preventive health measures and save the country money typically spend on illness and disease. Fortunately, this fund has supplemented Nevada’s budget with more than $31 million since the fund’s inception, and has had a direct impact on the programs being developed to ensure vaccine access across the state. Unfortunately, with the repeal of the ACA, the PPHF funds are at risk of being eliminated, and Nevada will likely suffer major public health setbacks as a result.
A Surge in State Specific Immunization Related Bills
It’s easy to understand why people take public health for granted. You simply can’t see the diseases that have been prevented, the hospitalizations that have been avoided or the lives that have been saved. And in these challenging economic times, when state and federal budgets are being scrutinized, it’s important that we keep focused on our collective public health needs and responsibilities.
Unfortunately, according to a new report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation many states just don’t measure up the way we might expect them to. In this report each state was graded in ten areas related to funding, vaccination rates and public health department readiness and quality. Some of the specific factors that each state was judged on include vaccinating for diseases like flu, measles, HPV, and whooping cough; controlling hospital-acquired infections; screening people for HIV; preparing for climate change and disease outbreaks; and adequately funding their public health departments. States scored one point for each measure they met for a maximum of 10 points.
Sadly, thirty-four states scored 5 points or less in this report. Three states – Georgia, Nebraska and New Jersey – tied for the lowest score of 2. And the only state to achieve the highest score of 8 out of 10 was New Hampshire.
If you are preparing to travel over the upcoming holidays, you may be interested in knowing how the different states measure up. For a detailed breakdown by state, you can refer to the full report here. You can also read more about some other key findings from the report including the following: Read more…
If you’ve seen the movie Contagion, the first thing you probably asked yourself was,
“Is it possible? Could this really happen?”
It’s likely that you then began to consider all the things you had touched, and all the people you had come in contact with in the few minutes it took to exit the theatre. In the hours following the movie, you were probably still fixated on washing your hands. You may have started to count how many times you had touched your face. And you most likely cringed every time you heard someone cough.
While movie goers across the country are wondering whether we could ever suffer from a Hollywood sized epidemic as dangerous as the one witnessed in the movie Contagion, many experts are weighing in with phrases like “possible”, “plausible” and “painfully,yes”.
If you haven’t seen Contagion, the movie follows the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills within days. As the movie unfolds, so does the fast-moving epidemic that spans the globe and has the CDC and the entire worldwide health community racing to find a cure and control the panic that ensues among the threatened population. Since the movie opened over a week ago, there have been lots of people questioning whether something as big as this could actually happen.
If you believe that Contagion is simply an elaborate plot to instill fear, and nothing more, than perhaps you have been plagued by Hollywood hype. However, if you are inquisitive enough to take a closer look at the possibilities that exist, you may find this movie to be an important reminder to us all – a reminder of why we should appreciate and advocate for stronger public health practices across the nation.
In a special behind-the-scenes event last week, hosted by The CDC Foundation, I had the privilege of hearing from three CDC experts on the subject of Contagion and real life disease detection. While they acknowledged that there is a continuous and unpredictable threat of disease all across the world, they also elaborated on the important, real-life work of the many local, state and federal public health workers who continuously monitor these threats and try their best to protect us from the exact scenario we see in Contagion. Read more…