AVAC Blog Spotlight:
Amy Pisani, Vaccinate Your Family
As major measles outbreaks in New York, California and elsewhere continue to spread, along with the spread of whooping cough, mumps, hepatitis A and hepatitis B, you may wonder how an organization such as Vaccinate Your Family, founded thirty years ago on the heels of a massive outbreak of measles, is dealing with today’s crisis. Vaccinate Your Family’s (VYF) efforts to educate the public, policymakers and the media about the critical importance of timely vaccinations have helped reshape the conversations on the safety of vaccines over the past three decades. Today, the majority of news coverage (and policymaker comments) about the measles outbreaks are based on credible science and seek to counter disinformation about vaccine safety. That’s a major improvement from the 1990’s when the media and policymakers were more likely to report theories than facts.
In 1991, Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Former First Lady of Arkansas Betty Bumpers founded our organization, then known as Every Child By Two (ECBT), to ensure the timely immunizations of all children. Measles had just swept the country, infecting over 55,000 individuals and taking the lives of over one hundred people. Since then, we have sought to develop sound public health policies, increase immunization appropriations, and implement practical solutions to eliminate healthcare barriers to timely immunizations. As scientific advancements have allowed vaccinations to save lives across the lifespan, we officially broadened our mission in 2015 to help protect people of all ages from vaccine-preventable disease, and to emphasize the importance of vaccinations for the entire family. I have served as the Executive Director of Vaccinate Your Family: The Next Generation of Every Child By Two since 1998.
We firmly believe that vaccines should remain a priority for all policymakers regardless of their political affiliation. Therefore, in an effort to keep our federal legislators up-to-date on the latest vaccine-preventable disease threats and vaccination trends, VYF has created an annual report. In February 2019, Vaccinate Your Family released our third annual State of the ImmUnion summarizing the state of vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States. The report also provides policy recommendations and several policy solutions to help stop vaccine-preventable diseases.
Children, adolescents, adults and pregnant women all need immunizations, but many may not be receiving recommended vaccinations on time. According to the report, 2018 proved that vaccine-preventable deaths are still a threat to the US and that it is everyone’s responsibility to help protect people of all ages, as well as our communities.
Among the report’s highlights:
- Flu, pneumococcal disease, shingles and whooping cough cost $27B to treat each year in adults 50 years and older.
- A measles outbreak in Minnesota cost the state $1.3M, an amount that does not include the costs sustained by private insurance or the indirect costs incurred by families due to lost days of work or ongoing care.
- The opioid epidemic has led to a 114% increase in hepatitis B cases in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia with similar increases expected across the country.
- 31,200 of 33,700 cases of HPV-related cancers could be prevented each year with vaccination.
The report also includes numerous policy recommendations, including:
- Increasing the federal appropriations to the CDC, states and territories;
- Increasing federal funding for immunizations at the Indian Health Service;
- Expanding funding to include research into immunization access barriers;
- Supporting healthcare payment measures that expand access and protect first dollar coverage and essential health benefits.
We hope this report serves as an important reminder to all Members of Congress that our work to contain vaccine-preventable diseases and their impact on both our people and economy is not over.