Bipartisan congressional leaders stress importance of vaccines

A bipartisan group of health committee leaders from the House and Senate highlighted the importance of immunizations this week, writing that “vaccines save lives” in a letter to other members of Congress.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and U.S. Reps. Greg Walden (R-OR), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Michael Burgess (R-TX), a medical doctor and chairman of the Health Subcommittee, were among bipartisan congressional leaders who signed the letter.

“The introduction of vaccines was a turning point in our country’s public health history,” the letter states. “Vaccines led to the elimination of certain diseases, including polio and measles, from the United States.”

Polio averaged more than 16,000 cases of paralysis and nearly 2,000 deaths per year before a polio vaccine was introduced, and up to 4 million people were infected by measles each year before a vaccine was introduced in 1963, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

“Vaccines are our first line of defense against infectious diseases, many of which have no treatment or can be life-threatening,” the letter states. “As medical research continues to advance, and scientists discover new medical breakthroughs and cutting-edge ways to treat disease and save lives, it is critical to recognize the importance of protecting public health against vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Vaccines licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are proven to be safe and effective, and save the lives both of those who receive them and vulnerable individuals around them, the letter said. “As members of Congress, we have a critical role to play in supporting the availability and use of vaccines to protect Americans from deadly diseases.”

The reemergence of vaccine-preventable diseases presents a public health threat, the letter continues. The threat of outbreaks reemerging has been minimized because the majority of people are immunized against contagious diseases. So-called herd immunity also protects those who are too young or have medical conditions that preclude them from being vaccinated.

The lawmakers urged their fellow members of Congress to consider sound scientific information and successful examples of infectious disease prevention going forward.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the ranking member of the Senate HELP Committee, and U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Gene Green (D-TX), the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Health, also signed the letter.