Vaccine Fears Fuel Effort for $500 Million Promotion Campaign

A drop in vaccination rates this year has some lawmakers worried that Americans won’t trust a coronavirus vaccine, prompting calls for a new public health campaign.

A group of House Democrats is pushing to give more than $500 million to state and local public health departments to underwrite a massive campaign aimed at promoting vaccines. Such a move is necessary, supporters say, to convince Americans to trust an eventual coronavirus vaccine and to catch up on vaccinations missed during the pandemic.

“We do not want to see an epidemic and a pandemic at the same time,” Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) told reporters Monday.

(Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
A nurse prepares a patient’s arm to receive a measles, mumps, and rubella virus vaccine made by Merck & Co. at the Utah County Health Department on April 29, 2019, in Provo, Utah.

Underwood said the funds should be included in the next virus-relief bill. Negotiations over that package stalled after party leaders failed to agree on its scope, with Democrats arguing for a multitrillion-dollar package and Republican leaders demanding a narrower bill.

Vaccinations Drop

Complete data on vaccination rates for 2020 won’t be available until 2021, but there are signs fewer children are getting their recommended vaccines on time this year.

The federal program that supplies vaccines for about half the nation’s children saw demand for measles vaccines drop by almost 400,000 doses between March and April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported earlier this year. The drop came after a national emergency was declared due to the coronavirus and as doctor’s offices largely closed for nonemergency services.

Hospitals and doctor’s offices have been doing far less since March as people avoid routine care due to the spread of the virus, according to federal labor data. These slowdowns in services have resulted in the industry losing 797,000 jobs since February, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

As many as 178 million people globally will miss their measles vaccines this year, the World Health Organization warned Monday.

Building Trust

Anti-vaccination campaigns remain rampant online: pro-vaccine groups have more followers on Facebook than anti-vaccine groups, but there are far more groups opposed to vaccines than supportive of them, according to a study published in the journal Nature. Researchers fear the growth in number of groups makes it hard for social media companies to monitor them, and more likely people will share their messages.

Rep. Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), one of the cosponsors of legislation to fund new vaccine-promotion efforts (H.R. 8061), said public health officials need careful messages designed to give accurate information that encourages vaccines. She said that will be key for promoting a future coronavirus vaccine.

“There are things we can say now that will build public trust,” Schrier said.

Local health authorities should deliver the message because they’re more likely to be trusted, Schrier added.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com

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