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Clinton Unveils $300 Million Child-Immunization Plan

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WASHINGTON--Castigating pharmaceutical companies for "profiteering'' at the expense of children's health, President Clinton this month announced a $300 million plan designed to insure the immunization of an additional one million infants and children this year.

Appearing with the First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala at a public-health clinic in nearby Arlington, Va., Mr. Clinton said it is "shameful'' that "our nation is the only industrialized nation in the entire world that does not guarantee childhood vaccinations for all children.''

Currently, fewer than 60 percent of preschool-age children receive all the recommended vaccinations against such diseases as polio and rubella, and 50 percent of low-income urban children in that age group receive no immunizations at all, according to the Public Health Service.

As part of the economic plan he presented to Congress last week, Mr. Clinton asked for a $300 million increase for fiscal 1993 in the National Vaccine Program administered by the human-services department. (See related story, page 1.)

The new money would mean longer clinic hours, more personnel, and improved medical coverage for children, according to a summary of the plan.

Mr. Clinton also said that the Education Department would establish an information and tracking system to monitor children's immunization records throughout their school careers.

The proposed plan would save Americans $10 in preventable health-care costs for every dollar spent, Mr. Clinton said. It would also nearly double the $342 million the federal government now spends on vaccinations each year.

The President said he will direct Ms. Shalala to negotiate with vaccine manufacturers to insure that "any state can purchase any necessary vaccine at reasonable prices.''

Spiraling Costs

Over the past decade, while immunization rates have declined, the price of vaccines has risen at a rate six times that of inflation, the President said. Ten years ago, immunizing a child cost $23, compared with today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"In the United States, the polio vaccine currently costs close to $10. In England, the same drug is available for $1.80. In Belgium it costs 77 cents,'' Mr. Clinton said. "Spiraling costs are putting America's children and America's future in jeopardy.''

The President also admonished the pharmaceutical industry for "spending $1 billion more each year on advertising than it does on developing new and better drugs.''

Drug company officials rejected the President's claims.

"We disagree with the assertion that the cost of childhood vaccines is the principal cause of low immunization rates among America's preschool children,'' said Pamela Adkins, a spokeswoman for Merck & Company, one of the nation's largest manufacturers of vaccines.

Ms. Adkins said that a federal excise tax imposed on pediatric vaccines and the addition of two new vaccinations in the last five years are responsible for 80 percent of the price increase.

The excise tax goes into a fund available to physicians and consumers to help resolve malpractice complaints involving vaccinations.

Industry officials also blamed low immunization rates on a lack of education about the importance of childhood vaccines and the understaffing of many public-health clinics. They also praised the Administration for its pledge to improve access.

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