Too ‘broke’ for immunization programs?

TOO ‘BROKE’ FOR IMMUNIZATION PROGRAMS?…. Part of the problem with the budget plan approved by House Republicans is that it has too many problems. For critics, it’s hard to even know where to start with all the spectacular flaws, and Democrats have struggled — if they’ve even tried — to narrow the focus to a handful of glaring, scandalous GOP decisions.

Should the focus be on cuts to Head Start? How about undercutting job training? And infrastructure? And homeland security? For those opposed to the GOP plan, the number of rhetorical targets makes criticism haphazard.

And that’s a shame because each of the remarkable cuts Republicans voted for deserves considerable attention. Suzy Khimm highlights a doozy today, that’s gone largely unnoticed. We knew the House GOP targeted the Centers for Disease Control, but it’s worth emphasizing what that means for the agency’s immunization funding.

In the past year, California has experienced the worst whopping cough outbreak in more than 50 years, an epidemic that has killed 10 infants and resulted in 6,400 reported cases. But even as the state’s public health officials have struggled to curb the disease, Republicans in Congress have proposed slashing millions in federal funding for immunization programs. Public health advocates warn that these cuts threaten efforts across the country to prevent and contain infectious and sometimes fatal diseases. And they add that lower vaccination rates could eventually result in more outbreaks that endanger public health at a major cost to taxpayers.

The House GOP’s 2011 budget would chop $156 million from the Centers for Disease Control’s funding for immunization and respiratory diseases. The GOP reductions are likely to hit the CDC’s support for state and local immunization programs, the agency’s ability to evaluate which vaccines are working, and its work to educate the public about recommended vaccines for children, teenagers, and other susceptible populations. The CDC especially focuses on serving lower-income families who receive vaccines at state and local health offices and community health clinics, rather than a private doctor’s office.

I sometimes get the sense the entire congressional Republican caucus is trying to do an imitation of C. Montgomery Burns.

Also note, we discussed the other day how some GOP spending cuts actually end up costing us more money, and this would very likely fall into the same category.

Health advocates tout vaccines as one of the most cost-effective preventive health strategies, warning that pinching pennies to achieve short-term cost savings could end up costing taxpayers plenty more down the road. […]

Advocates warn that cutting back on vaccine education and availability could help increase the likelihood of future outbreaks of such diseases — and reduce the government’s ability to respond effectively to contain such outbreaks when they occur. “It’s false savings,” concludes APHA’s Benjamin. While other public health experts argue the impact of such cutbacks might not be immediately apparent, there could be risks down the road if funding for vaccines is undermined. “In the short term, you’re not going to see a difference, but [the question is] whether in three to five years, we’re going to maintain our high immunization levels,” says Dr. William Schaffner, chair of Vanderbilt University’s preventive medicine department and an advisor to the CDC.

To date, Democrats have resisted Republican demands for these cuts. For all our sakes, here’s hoping it’s one of the many parts of the budget fight Dems win.

Postscript: I would assume that GOP leaders would defend these cuts with the same line they always use: “We’re broke.” But we’re not, and if Republicans believe we can afford tax cuts and wars, but not immunizations for low-income children, that’s pretty twisted.