Child vaccine plan steps beyond vision

May 30, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress and makers of drugs say the Clinton administration has gone far beyond what Congress intended when it passed legislation last year to ensure that all children would be vaccinated.

Although Congress did not specify how the vaccine would be distributed, lawmakers say the administration is now planning a much larger role for the federal government than they ever envisioned.

In addition to planning to obtain most of the childhood vaccine used in the United States, the administration is setting up a warehouse to store and distribute it, despite strenuous objections from members of Congress. Distribution is now handled entirely by manufacturers and state and local health departments as well as private doctors.

The vaccination program stems from President Clinton's attack on drug companies 14 months ago, when he said many children went without vaccinations because manufacturers were pursuing "profits at the expense of our children."

Although Mr. Clinton proposed that the government distribute free vaccines to all children, Congress adopted a more modest program focusing on low-income children.

But drug companies and members of Congress said that the administration was buying more vaccine than would be needed to immunize all children.

In a letter sent last month to the administration, Sens. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., and John C. Danforth, R-Mo., said the administration was creating "a new entitlement unrelated to financial need." High- and middle-income families would be eligible for free vaccines as long as their insurance didn't cover it, they said.

In an interview, Mr. Danforth was more emphatic: "This program is getting bollixed up. The government is taking over the vaccine distribution system. That's crazy."

Administration officials acknowledge that there have been some problems in organizing the program. But they say that private doctors are needed because half of all children receive basic health care from such doctors. And they say they are buying extra vaccine to catch up on the immunization of hundreds of thousands of children who did not receive their shots on schedule.

Drug companies and lawmakers say that vaccines are already available to the poor and that low immunization rates have less to do with the cost of vaccines than with the failure of some parents to take responsibility for their children's health.

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