Statement in Support of the Protecting Seniors Through Immunization Act of 2021
The following is a statement regarding the introduction of the Protecting Seniors Through Immunization Act of 2021 [link] from Patricia D’Antonio, co-chair of Adult Vaccine Access Coalition (AVAC) and the vice president of professional affairs for The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) and a board-certified geriatric pharmacist, and Phyllis Arthur, co-chair of AVAC and the managing director for infectious diseases and diagnostics policy at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO).
The Adult Vaccine Access Coalition (AVAC) commends the introduction of the Protecting Seniors Through Immunization Act of 2021, which, by eliminating out-of-pocket costs for vaccines covered under Medicare Part D, ensures lifesaving immunization can reach more Americans.
Every year, more than 50,000 adults die and thousands more suffer serious health problems from vaccine preventable diseases—in large part due to the complicated and costly landscape faced by Medicare patients when seeking access to vaccines. Medicare recipients encounter a confusing health care system that presents multiple barriers, including lack of awareness and information about recommended vaccines, financial hurdles including high cost-sharing, as well as technological and logistical obstacles.
Vaccines covered under Medicare Part B—such as COVID-19, flu and pneumococcal—require no out-of-pocket costs. Yet, immunizations for other life-threatening conditions such as Tdap and shingles require co-pays, which studies show can reduce vaccine rates. By eliminating the out-of-pocket payment required of Medicare patients—many of whom are on fixed incomes to begin with—the Protecting Seniors Through Immunization Act of 2021 makes great strides in addressing the structural inequities in vaccine coverage that put many older adults and persons with serious chronic conditions at risk.
On behalf of more than 60 organizations representing patient, public health, providers, and vaccine innovators, members of the Adult Vaccine Access Coalition (AVAC) are proud to endorse the Protecting Seniors Through Immunization Act of 2021 and applaud the leadership of Senators Hirono, Capito, Whitehouse and Scott, as well as and Representatives Kuster and Buschon. By removing a cost barrier that has for too long prevented many Americans from accessing vital vaccines, this bill can truly save lives. We can’t wait another minute.
By expanding access to vaccine information and education, the bill will also help reduce racial and socioeconomic disparities that have led to decreased vaccination rates in underrepresented populations, including communities of color and limited English-proficient persons.
Though our country’s childhood vaccination program has been largely successful at reducing or eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in vaccination coverage for children—the same cannot be said for adults. Black, Asian and Latino adults receive recommended vaccinations at rates far below those of Whites for all adult-recommended vaccines. Targeted efforts to close this immunization gap and improve adult vaccination rates are vital if we are to have a more equitable society.
These health disparities have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has not only caused unprecedented financial insecurity, but has particularly burdened older Americans and underrepresented populations who were already more at-risk of illness. Our current public health crisis has underscored the need for swift action to increase access for and use of these essential vaccines.
Because of the pandemic, it’s critical that Americans get the routine and preventive care they need to stay healthy and out of the health care system. By advancing the Protecting Seniors Through Immunization Act, Congress can send a clear message of support for preventive tools like vaccines, which are one of our most important and effective public health measures.
We believe that the future holds great promise for new immunizations—specifically for older adults—but their benefits cannot be realized if patients cannot access them. Reducing the number of missed immunization opportunities for Medicare beneficiaries is an important step in improving health and reducing the burden of vaccine-preventable illness among this population.
AVAC consists of more than 60 organizational leaders in health and public health who are committed to raising awareness of the importance of adult immunization, with the ultimate goal of addressing barriers to these vaccines. Our mission is informed by scientific and empirical evidence that shows immunization improves health and protects lives against a variety of debilitating and potentially deadly conditions, saving costs to the healthcare system and to society as a whole. AVAC priorities and objectives are driven by a consensus process with the goal of enabling a range of stakeholders to have a voice in the effort to improve access and utilization of adult immunizations. One of our top priorities is achieving increased adult immunization rates through improving education and awareness of recommended vaccines and addressing challenges to access.