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Child Vaccine Distribution Plan Killed

August 23, 1994|ALAN C. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Clinton Administration has scrapped its much-criticized plan to ship nearly one-third of the nation's childhood vaccines through a government-run warehouse in New Jersey as part of its sweeping new immunization program, Administration and congressional sources said Monday.

Faced with intense opposition from members of Congress and pharmaceutical companies, the Administration has chosen to abandon the most controversial element of its program, which is scheduled to begin Oct. 1. The goal of the initiative is to increase immunization rates for preschool children.

"They've given up on the idea of the distribution center," said a Senate aide familiar with the vaccination plans. "They're looking at several other options." Dr. Walter A. Orenstein of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the Associated Press that the Administration is withdrawing its blueprint for the distribution system in the face of the controversy it has generated.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will continue to implement the rest of the program, which calls for the federal government to buy $500 million in discount vaccines and distribute them free to more than 70,000 private physicians, Orenstein said.

The physicians, in turn, will immunize Medicaid recipients who are children, uninsured children and Native Americans against measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis and polio.

The program has come under fire from some of Capitol Hill's leading advocates of increased childhood immunization. Critics, such as Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), have maintained that the additional funds would be better spent on parental and physician education and outreach than purchasing vaccines. Critics have also said that the undertaking might be only marginally successful.

The most intense outcry was generated by the plan to ship one-third of the vaccines through a mammoth Burlington, N.J., facility run by the General Services Administration, which has no experience with such sensitive materials. This concern was further fueled when the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said in a report last month that the program was running behind schedule and questioned the GSA's ability to assure the integrity of the vaccines.

Bumpers subsequently inserted a provision in a Senate appropriations bill that would prohibit any money from being spent on the program until the Administration was able to assure Congress that it could safely and efficiently deliver the vaccines. It would also require the Department of Health and Human Services to seek bids from private firms to see if they could provide distribution services more cheaply than the government.

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