The month of August marks National Immunization Awareness Month, which is a very timely subject considering the unprecedented circumstances we are facing in the world right now. For decades, communities around the globe have relied on vaccinations and immunizations to protect us from dangerous, deadly diseases. This month, it is important to remember that vaccines not only protect you, they also protect at-risk individuals around you and ultimately save lives.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccines and immunizations prove to be one of the most cost-effective, life-saving treatments for diseases. In fact, as reported by the Adult Vaccine Access Coalition (AVAC), the United States each year spends an astonishing $26.5 billion treating four major vaccine preventable diseases: influenza, pneumococcal, shingles and pertussis. Before the coronavirus pandemic, AVAC also noted that, over 20 years, vaccines would prevent 732,000 deaths and 21 million hospitalizations.
As the former Chairman and current Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for funding the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), I have always supported incremental funding increases for the CDC and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Gradual base increases go toward support of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, which facilitates increasing vaccination rates for over a dozen vaccine-preventable diseases, as well as vaccinations for at-risk populations. It also strengthens state public health infrastructure and increases disease surveillance efforts.
To slow the spread of coronavirus, the development of a vaccine to treat COVID-19 is crucial, and I am proud this is being taken seriously in our country. This spring, the NIH formed a public-private partnership called Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) to coordinate and prioritize research efforts into the most promising therapeutics and vaccines. Moreover, HHS has invested more than $7 billion into facilitating research and development for more than five vaccine candidates by leading pharmaceutical companies.
In mid-May, President Trump initiated Operation Warp Speed, a partnership with HHS, the Department of Defense and private pharmaceutical companies to ensure the United States is the first nation in the world to develop and deploy a coronavirus vaccine. This operation seeks to quickly produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines nationwide by January 2021. It’s worth noting that Operation Warp Speed has resulted in the pre-purchase of hundreds of millions of doses should vaccine candidates prove successful.
Throughout the course of history, vaccines have proven to prevent diseases and serious illnesses, and the coronavirus pandemic proves no different. Although this process doesn’t happen overnight, we have certainly made the investments and have the resources to develop and administer a coronavirus vaccine once discovered. However, this pandemic also reaffirms the importance of investing in pandemic programs to ensure we can develop, test and stockpile immunizations for the next generation.