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UNPROTECTED PEOPLE: Stories of
people who have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases
DECEMBER 11, 2000, REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON
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President Bill Clinton announced a new childhood
immunization initiative in conjunction with WIC on December 11, 2000. The following are his remarks
in their entirety.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. And let me say, I took a lot of pride, just listening to Mrs. Carter speak here.
She seemed right at home.
When Hillary and I moved into the Arkansas governor's mansion in 1979, Betty Bumpers began her lifelong campaign
to wear me out about immunizations. [Laughter.] And I reminded Rosalynn that it was in 1979 or
1980 that we actually did an immunization event in the backyard of the Arkansas governor's mansion. I can't remember whether it
was '79 or '80 now, but it was, anyway, a year or two ago.
So I can't thank these two women enough for what they have done. And I was marveling, when Mrs. Carter was going
through all those issues, at just how well she knows and understands this issue. So I'm very grateful to both ofthem, because we wouldn't be here today if it weren't for
I also want to thank Secretary Shalala and Secretary Glickman, and, in her absence, Hillary. They have worked
very hard on this for the last eight years, and we have made some remarkable progress.
I want to recognize also Dr. Walter Orenstein of the CDC and Shirley Watkins
of the Department of Agriculture, who will be very active in the steps that I'm
going to announce today.
I think it's worth noting that we're meeting in the Roosevelt Room, which was
named for our two presidents and Eleanor Roosevelt. And Franklin Roosevelt spent almost half
his life in a wheelchair as a result of polio. And I was part of the first generation of Americans to be immunized
And I remember, as a child, seeing other children in iron lungs. And I remember what an enormous elation it was for
me and my classmates when we first got our polio vaccines, to think that that's one thing we didn't have to
worry about anymore. It's hard for people now who weren't alive then and weren't part of it to even imagine what that meant
to a whole generation of children. But it was profoundly important.
We now know that vaccines save lives and agony. They also save money; they're a good investment. And we have done
what we could, over the last eight years, to make sure that our children get the best shot in life by getting
their shots. And we have, as Rosalynn said, made progress.
In 1993, almost two out of five children under the age of three had not been
fully vaccinated. And Secretary Shalala and Hillary and the rest of our team
went to work with the Childhood Immunization Initiative to improve immunization
services, make the vaccines safer and more affordable, and increase the immunization rates. We enacted the Vaccines
for Children program to provide free vaccines to uninsured and underinsured children.
And thanks to the work of people in this room and people like you all across
America, these rates, as Mrs. Carter said, are at an all-time high. And the incidence of diseases such as measles, mumps and
rubella are at an all-time low.
In recent years, we've been able to say that for the first time in our nation's
history 90 percent of our children have been immunized against serious childhood diseases. And
just as important, vaccine levels are almost the same for preschool kids across racial and ethnic lines. So our
children are safer and healthier.
But, as has already been said today, there is still a lot
to do. At least a million infants and toddlers are not fully immunized. Too many children continue to
fall victim to diseases that a simple immunization could have prevented. Low-income children are far less likely to be
immunized. In some urban areas, for example, immunization rates are 20 percent below the national average.
In Houston, just 63 percent of low-income kids are vaccinated. In Detroit and
Newark, it's 66 percent. And we know areas with below-average immunization rates are at
greater risk of potentially deadly outbreaks, such as what we saw with the measles epidemic in the early '80s -- the
late '80s. So today, we are here to announce three new steps that we hope will build on the record and
meet the outstanding challenges.
First, we have to go where the children are, as Mrs. Carter said. Over 45 percent of infants and toddlers nationwide
are being served by the Women, Infants and Children program. It's the single largest point of access to health
care for low-income preschool children, who are at highest risk of low vaccination coverage. The immunization rates
for children in WIC in some cases is 20 percent lower than the rates for other children. So WIC is clearly
the place to start on the outstanding challenge.
Today I am directing WIC to conduct an immunization assessment of every child participating in the program, all
five million of them. Each time a child comes in, their immunization status would be evaluated. Children who are
behind schedule or who don't have records will be referred to a local health
care provider. I am asking the CDC to provide WIC's staff with the information
they need to conduct immunization assessments accurately and efficiently. We know this will work. WIC centers that have
experimented with this type of approach have seen vaccination coverage increase by up to 40 percent in
just one year.
Second, I am directing Secretary Shalala and Secretary Glickman to develop a national strategic plan to further
improve immunization for children at risk -- so they'll have something to do in this last 40 days. [Laughter.] This
would include steps to utilize new technology, share best practices, and examine
how we can enlist other federal programs serving children in the effort to improve
But it isn't a job just for government alone. We need to work with other caring
organizations to succeed. So third and finally, I'm announcing that the American Academy of
Pediatrics is launching a new campaign to urge all 55,000 of its members to remind WIC-eligible parents to bring
their immunization records with them when they visit WIC sites. I want to thank the
members of the AAP for their initiative as well. We need to keep working until
every child in every community is safe from vaccine-preventable disease.
Dr. Jonas Salk, the father of the polio vaccine, once said, "the greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do
more." We've done a lot together, and we have more to do. Thank you very much.
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