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Happy Birthday VFC! Time to Celebrate a Medical Miracle that Saved 732,000 Lives

By Dr. Arthur Lavin

Last fall marked the 25th Birthday of the VFC, a program that has its roots in the work of Hillary Clinton and Marian Wright Edelman at the Children’s Defense Fund and which then became the law of the land 25 years ago and still going strong.  It is a good time to celebrate its victories.

The Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program

The VFC makes immunizations available to all children in America who cannot afford them.

Right now that amounts to about half of all immunizations given to the children of our nation!

The program was appropriately inspired by an epidemic that was taking children’s lives for no very good reason.  We are currently living through a deadly epidemic, but imagine if we had an immunization in hand to keep everyone safe and people were only dying from COVID now because they could not afford it.

This was precisely the catastrophe VFC was created to end, forever.  The epidemic was a deadly measles epidemic in 1991.  The nation rallied to say, no child in the United States should ever again die because their parents could not buy their immunizations.

And since the VFC took hold, the chance a child in America would die of a disease their parents could have prevented but were stopped by money, has ended.  That is worth celebrating!

The VFC is housed in the CDC and immunizations it approves for coverage are decided by doctors and scientists, not the drug companies, not at all.   The idea was to shield decisions about saving lives from saving, or making, money.  And the VFC has succeeded in that too, making immunizations that save lives, even if it costs the nation money.  That is worth celebrating!

Has the VFC Done Any Good?

You should be the judge.

Since its birth, the immunizations that the VFC has supplied to families unable to pay for immunizations have:

  • Prevented 21 million hospitalizations of children
  • Saved the nation $1 Trillion, $380 Billion.
  • And saved 732,000 lives.
  • It is no longer the case that white kids are more protected by immunizations than kids of color.

These four accomplishments are definitely worth celebrating.

Lessons from the VFC

I take 4 lessons from this experience.

First.

It’s not such a bad thing to help people.  It does cost about $4 billion dollars a year to offer half of the nation’s immunizations for free, but if I could spend $4 billion and make $1 Trillion and $380 billion in return, I would do it for sure.

Second.

It’s not such a bad thing to help people.  Making immunizations available to all Americans saved an amazing number of lives.  There are nearly 3/4 of a million people walking around right now who would have died in childhood without this help.

Third.

It’s not such a bad thing to help people.  The VFC program did something few actions in American history have succeeded in doing, helping children of all colors achieve the same level of benefit from a good idea.  Because of the VFC, no matter the color of your skin, or the amount of wealth your family owns, everyone has the chance to be protected from deadly diseases that immunizations can prevent.

Fourth.

Immunizations turn out to be a good thing.   A number of people are convinced that giving their child immunizations causes more harm than good.   If the desire of some to eliminate immunizations had been adopted in 1991, there would be 732,000 good people alive now who would have died in childhood.   There is no way giving children in America their immunizations cost anything close to 700,000 lives, no one really believes this notion.  So there is the proof.   If we are in favor of these 732,000 people living, we need to be grateful they got the immunizations that saved their lives, and really wonder about the ideas circulating that suggest they would be very grateful if they hadn’t been immunized.

BOTTOM LINES

  1. Happy 25th Birthday to the Vaccines for Children Program
  2. We celebrate the savings of a trillion and hundreds of billions of dollars, millions of kids in hospitals, the near elimination of black-white differences in immunization rates.
  3. We celebrate the saving of 732,000 lives, that is extraordinary.
  4. We pause to consider, even if just for a moment, if any of us really would rather there be no immunizations, and what we would say to these 732,000 people who would not be here today if that had happened.

The moment for celebration and reflection is powerful in this moment of Pandemic, when over 100,000 of our fellow Americans have died from a virus, in a manner that once was common, before immunizations were invented.   The nation hangs on its seat for the emergence of a new COVID-19 vaccine, a good moment to say thank you to the immunization concept, and its wild successes!

To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin

 

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