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What is vaccine equity, and why is it important?

By L. M. Land

“Vaccine equity acknowledges that no nation, state, or individual’s life is more important or more deserving than another’s.”  -SaveTheChildren.org

Have you encountered barriers to getting a COVID vaccine here in Flint or Genesee County? We would like to hear your story.  Our Contact information is at the end of this article.

By the end of this year, our government will stop paying for COVID vaccines. This will affect the uninsured and under-insured the most. To understand the importance of this, look at the flu vaccine and the history of polio in the United States.

There is a myth in the public consciousness that the COVID vaccine will prevent infection. It does exactly what the flu vaccines do: if you get flu, it will be much less severe. Both illnesses are viruses, both capable of killing or disabling. Both mutate frequently.

Booster shots are designed to target the specific mutation circulating in the population at the moment. This is why you get a “flu shot” every year, as the mutations are different every year.

Likewise, children’s vaccines have prevented or eradicated many diseases. Let’s look at polio, which is also a virus. It was one of the most feared diseases in the United States in the 1940s and early 1950s.

In the 1940s, parents were frightened to let their children go outside, especially in the summer, as children caught it most then. Travel between affected cities was sometimes restricted. Public health officials imposed quarantines on homes and towns where polio cases were diagnosed. This sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Before polio vaccines were available, polio outbreaks caused more than 15,000 cases of paralysis each year. This does not include the actual number of those infected, just those left with paralysis. Following the introduction of vaccines—specifically, trivalent inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) in 1955 and trivalent oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) in 1963—the number of polio cases fell rapidly to less than 100 in the 1960s and fewer than 10 in the 1970s. 

That is a dramatic drop in a short time, which happened because every child in America, regardless of family income, had access to the vaccine.  In 1993 and July 2022 there were isolated polio cases, which were transmitted via travel in foreign countries where polio still exists. Since 1979 there are zero cases of wild polio that have originated in the U.S.

Thirty years ago, based on the polio success, the Vaccines for Children Program (VFC) was created to assure that every child in America has access to vaccines. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) receives a 25-75% discount from the vaccine manufacturers to vaccinate our children. The polio success story is the goal health officials hope for with COVID; we all get vaccinated, maintain booster shots, and eradicate or control this devastating virus in our population.

President Biden recently proposed a program for adult vaccinations like the VFC to make sure all adults can access vaccines. The likelihood of Biden’s proposal passing seems slim. So accessibility of all the vaccines to the uninsured or under-insured will be affected very soon.

Near the end of 2023, our government will no longer provide the COVID vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna are both raising their prices when the government contract ends. So far they’ve sold over $25 billion in vaccines to the CDC at an average price of $20.69 per dose, which Americans have been getting for free.  Pfizer’s estimated new rate will be $110-$130 per dose, not including administration costs of approximately $25-$40 each.

By contrast, the flu vaccine averages $18-$30 per dose.

Many insurances, like Medicare, may cover all or part of the cost. Medicaid coverage will vary from state to state, some will not cover it. This leaves approximately 20 million people paying out-of-pocket. This is vaccine inequity based on income. The possibility of a rise in COVID cases again in 2024 feels very real.

As we know, nothing is really free. The costs for all the vaccines and hospital admissions are bound to affect taxes and insurance premiums as time goes by.

It took only one traveler with polio to bring the disease back into the United States. It only took one plane trip out of China to spread COVID to the world. Vaccines are the only way we have to stop it and other diseases as well. Every human on earth deserves to be protected, regardless of race, age or ability. We are lucky, here in Flint, to have the option to protect ourselves.

But we wonder, here in Flint, have you encountered any kind of barrier to getting the COVID vaccine?  We would like to hear your story.  Email: TheFlintCourierNews@gmail.com or call 810-234-8770.  Please leave your name and phone number so we can call you back.





For a list of the childhood vaccines, see https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/child-adolescent.html



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