Vaccines are one of the greatest success stories in public health. Among the most cost-effective ways to prevent disease, every dollar invested in the U.S. childhood immunization program reaps ten dollars in societal savings and three dollars in direct medical savings. Over the past 27 years, childhood vaccinations have prevented an estimated 419 million illnesses and 936,000 deaths, saving $406 billion in direct costs and $1.9 trillion in total societal costs.
While vaccination rates remain high nationwide, approximately 50,000 adults and 300 children in the U.S. die annually from vaccine-preventable diseases and their complications. The country continues to spend nearly $27 billion annually to treat four vaccine-preventable illnesses in adults over the age of 50 — flu, pertussis, pneumococcal (pneumonia), and shingles. Evidently, more work is necessary to expand the life- and cost-saving benefits of vaccines to all in need. Maintaining high immunization coverage is vital for preventing epidemics of diseases that cause preventable illness, disability, and death.
Immunization infrastructure is critical to achieving this goal, especially since public health priorities shift rapidly in the event of an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease, a bioterrorism event, or a novel virus. As evidenced by the 2019 measles outbreak, the worst on record since 1992, the 317 program is critical to fund the surveillance, epidemiology, and laboratory capacity necessary to track disease and ensure those in contact with those infected are immunized. The COVID-19 pandemic further spotlighted the desperate need for a properly outfitted national immunization infrastructure. Data reporting challenges, limited workforce, lack of enrolled adult providers, vaccine hesitancy, and health disparities obstructed the efficient rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Increased and sustained investment is needed to modernize immunization information systems (IIS), establish interstate IIS data sharing, develop a network of adult immunization providers reporting data into IIS, and engage with communities to build vaccine confidence and reduce disparities.
Fully funding the 317 program is the best way to preserve and expand access to crucial vaccines for the most vulnerable.
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
Authorized under Section 317 of the Public Health Service Act, Congress launched federal funding for the 317 program in 1963. Fifty-eight years later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) awarded nearly $531 million in federal grants to state, local, and territorial public health agencies to support program operations and vaccine purchases. Currently, the program funds 64 grantees: all 50 states, six large cities, and eight territories and former territories.
The 317 program works to ensure that children, adolescents, and adults receive appropriate immunizations by partnering with healthcare providers in the public and private sectors. The majority of the program’s funding supports foundational functions such as vaccine effectiveness studies, immunization registries, disease surveillance, outbreak detection and response, vaccine coverage assessment, and vaccine safety and provider education programming. A smaller portion of the program’s resources supports vaccine purchases for adult immunization initiatives. Strong immunization infrastructure ensures optimal coverage with routinely recommended vaccines.