With 102 cases of measles reported across 14 states, the White House may have picked a bad time to call for decreased funding from a key immunization program.
The White House budget, released on Monday, cuts $50 million from the Department of Health and Human Services’ 317 Program.
The 317 Program provides vaccines at no cost to underinsured and uninsured children and adults, as well as insured adults as part outbreak response and disaster relief. It also funds infrastructure to assure high immunization coverage.
At the same time, the budget adds over $128 million to the Vaccines for Children Program, an entitlement program that provides vaccines to uninsured, underinsured and Medicaid-eligible children.
It is the Obama administration’s hope that health insurance expansion through the Affordable Care Act will further increase access to immunizations, decreasing the number of uninsured and underinsured individuals in need of the 317 Program.
A White House official says there has been a massive expansion in access to free vaccines under the Affordable Care Act, because insurers now have to cover measles and other recommended vaccines with no co-pay.
L.J. Tan, chief strategy officer for the Immunization Action Coalition, told CNN that the White House is right the Affordable Care Act now provides vaccinations for many children who were previously covered by the 317 Program, the cut will still be a set back.
“The program funds a lot of the states’ infrastructure for vaccine delivery,” said Tan, explaining how the cut will affect everyone.
The 317 Program is also instrumental in surveillance of vaccine-preventable diseases. Since the beginning of the measles outbreak, the program has tracked those infected, interviewing everyone they have come into contact with, according to Tan.
The proposed cuts come at a time when politicians are quibbling about the government’s right to mandate certain vaccines.
On Monday, several potential Republican presidential contenders – such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul – said the decision should be left up to families, while President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton said its in the interest of public health for kids to get the recommended vaccinations. By Tuesday, other Republicans with White House ambitions also offered pro-vaccine statements, such as Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
Obama’s own position on immunization has changed over the years.
In April 2008, the President called the science behind vaccines and autism “inconclusive.”
A 2004 study by the Institute of Medicine rejected a link between vaccines and autism, and further studies in 2011 and 2014 confirmed vaccines as “generally safe.”
On Sunday, Obama strongly advocated for parents to vaccinate their children.
“The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not,” the President told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie.
“You should get your kids vaccinated,” he said.
The White House, however, does not advocate for mandated vaccinations.
When asked whether states should require vaccines by law, press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday the President “believes it shouldn’t require a law for people to exercise common sense and do the right thing.”
“There is an element of common sense that needs to be applied here because the science and the expert guidance that we get from our public health professionals is crystal clear,” Earnest said.