The President’s Podium: A Quiet Triumph

By Ronald Dunlap, M.D., President, Massachusetts Medical Society

It happened on a day when everyone’s attention was DSC_0003 Dunlap 4x6 color 300 ppi_editedfixed on the coming of yet another winter storm.  Perhaps that’s why it received little, if any, attention.  But an important piece of legislation affecting the state’s public health –and especially the health of our children – has quietly become law.

On February 12, Governor Patrick signed into law the Massachusetts Childhood Vaccine Program, a long-standing priority of the MMS and the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MCAAP).  Both organizations had pushed hard for passage of the bill, which was proposed by Senator Richard Moore of Uxbridge.

Following the Governor’s signature, MCAAP President John O’Reilly, M.D. and I issued a joint statement, saying that the law represents “a critical investment in the future health of the children of the Commonwealth.”  Indeed it does.

The new law guarantees access to all recommended vaccines for all children in the Commonwealth and establishes two key programs:  A Vaccine Purchase Trust and a Massachusetts Immunization Registry.

The Vaccine Purchase Trust Fund will pay for the distribution childhood vaccines through a public-private collaboration by charging an assessment on Massachusetts insurers for the cost of all vaccines for the children covered in their plans.  The vaccines can then be purchased through the Department of Public Health at reduced rates under the department’s federal contract. This financing system has been in place for the last three years, and in 2013 it saved the state nearly $50 million. The law makes the financing mechanism permanent, ensuring that no state funds would be used to finance the vaccine program.

The Massachusetts Immunization Registry will act as a statewide repository of all immunizations, one that can interact with electronic health records. It generates savings by reducing waste associated with over-immunization and allows for the tracking of the approximately 3.5 million doses of vaccine distributed annually by the Department of Public Health.  It will also help providers in keeping immunizations up to date by identifying those who are not vaccinated.  Massachusetts had been one of only three states in the country without a registry due to lack of funding.

This new law also comes at an opportune time.

Back in September in this space, I noted some key reasons why physicians should renew our efforts in advocating immunization for our patients.  I wrote that childhood diseases we thought were under control are reappearing with disturbing frequency; that more medical and philosophical exemptions to childhood vaccines are being allowed; and that the medical-conspiracy theorists are still at it, pushing misguided notions about ill effects of vaccines.  These conditions still exist.

In that same post, I also quoted Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the U. S. Centers for Disease Control, who has said that “the doctor is the single most influential factor that determines whether kids get vaccinated.” That also remains true, and is worthy of repeating.

This new law will help physicians in their advocacy for vaccines and puts the Commonwealth in the position of maintaining its long-time leadership in childhood immunization, with high vaccination rates and low rates of vaccine-preventable diseases.

So despite the lack of headlines, despite its quiet passage, the Massachusetts Childhood Vaccine Program is great news for physicians and especially our young patients. It’s also a victory for public health in the Commonwealth.

The President’s Podium appears periodically on the MMS Blog, offering Dr. Dunlap’s commentary on a range of issues in health and medicine.  

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