U.S. free vaccine program tied to reduced disparities for kids

Free Vaccine Program

BY LISA RAPAPORT

(Reuters Health) – Racial and ethnic disparities in vaccination rates have declined since the U.S. started a free childhood vaccine program more than two decades ago, but affluent and white youth are still more likely to get shots than their low-income and non-white peers, a recent study suggests.

Researchers focused on Vaccines For Children (VFC), a federal government initiative started in 1994 to provide vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) buys vaccines at a discount and distributes them across the country so doctors and clinics can give kids free shots.

The study compared vaccination rates in 1995 to 1997, just after the VFC program went into effect, with the rates in 2011 to 2013 and found that overall, vaccination against polio climbed from about 89 percent to roughly 93 percent.

For the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR), uptake rose from 90 percent to 92 percent. Use of the vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis – often called DTaP – increased from 80 percent to 83 percent.

“Prior to the program’s introduction, outbreaks of common communicable diseases such as measles remained quite high in the U.S.,” said lead study author Brendan Walsh of City University London in the U.K.

“These outbreaks were more common among low-income and non-white children who were not vaccinated,” Walsh added by email.

Despite overall gains in vaccination rates, racial, ethnic and economic disparities persist, Walsh and colleagues report in the journal Health Affairs.

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