Experts support purchase, distribution of vaccines to kids

February 25, 1993|By New York Times News Service

BETHESDA -- Pediatricians and state health officials say that if government agencies bought and distributed all childhood vaccines, they could significantly increase the protection of children against diseases like measles, polio and whooping cough.

The Clinton administration is considering such a plan, under which federal and state agencies would buy all vaccines and distribute them free to public clinics and private doctors.

Experts discussed the plan at a public hearing of a federal advisory committee on the campus of the National Institutes of Health yesterday. The experts said a government purchase plan would help, but not guarantee, that all children get the recommended vaccines. They said other steps were needed.

These steps, they said, include better education of parents and creation of a national registry to track the immunization of children. In addition, they said, the federal government should require private health insurance firms to pay for shots.

Pharmaceutical industry officials vehemently opposed the idea that government agencies should buy and distribute all vaccines. They rejected President Clinton's contention that high vaccine prices were a reason for the low immunization rate of preschool children.

The administration can cite testimony at yesterday's hearing to support its plan for universal government purchase of vaccines, if it asks Congress to establish such a program. But drug company executives said this would be a bad precedent.

Officials from Massachusetts, Washington state and Arkansas, as well as the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, supported the idea of universal purchase of vaccines by government agencies.

The cost for the full set of vaccines, bought by private doctors in the open market, rose to $244 in 1992, from $23 in 1982, federal officials said.

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