August is National Immunization Awareness Month

ST. MARY'S COUNTY - Congressman Steny Hoyer yesterday joined state and local public health and education officials and advocates during National Immunization Awareness Month to discuss the importance of keeping vaccinations up to date as the 2004-2005 school year commences. Hoyer was briefed at Green Holly Elementary School in St. Mary's County by St. Mary's County Health Officer, Dr. William Icenhower, St. Mary's County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Patricia Richardson and School Board members, and public health officials and advocates on state and local efforts to ensure that every student in St. Mary's County and the State of Maryland have an up to date immunization record and are prepared for this year's flu season.

"Immunizations are one of the most significant public health achievements of the 20th century," said Congressman Hoyer. "With vaccines, we've eradicated smallpox, and significantly reduced the threat of many diseases such as measles, diphtheria, and rubella. But nationally, we still have work to do to ensure that everyone gets their shots and that no one has to die or suffer from vaccine-preventable diseases."

Congressman Hoyer met with the state and County officials and advocates to get a better understanding of how immunization efforts are coordinated and to help highlight the importance of back-to-school immunization efforts. The participants discussed the rising cost of vaccines, what Maryland's overall vaccination coverage picture looked like, and ensuring that children are receiving the flu shot as recommended by the CDC.

Congressman Hoyer is a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Department of Health and Human Services and has long been an advocate for providing a stable stream of funding from the Federal government to enable and support the development of comprehensive immunization programs within each state.

There are two programs, administered by the Centers for Disease Control, that receive federal immunization funding. The Vaccines for Children Program (VFC) uses federal funds to purchase vaccines which are distributed to public health clinics and private providers so that they can vaccinate uninsured and Medicaid-eligible children.

The National Immunization Program helps state and local health departments plan and implement immunization coverage strategies and purchase vaccines. In 2004 Maryland received approximately $4.5 million from the National Immunization Program, and about $16 million from the VFC program.

In addition to health and education officials, Congressman Hoyer invited Deborah Kepferle to participate in today's roundtable discussion. In 2000, Deborah's son Patrick Kepferle died suddenly in a college dorm from meningococcal meningitis. Although a meningitis vaccine was available, it was not widely administered so Patrick had not been vaccinated.

"Deborah and Mike Kepferle are a vivid example of the importance of the protections that vaccines provide," added Congressman Hoyer. "I am proud of the work that Deborah and Mike have done after this loss - soon after this shocking death Maryland passed the first state law in the nation to require college students to receive this vaccine. Additionally, Patrick's father Mike helped found the National Meningitis Association and worked to help pass similar or related laws in 30 states.

"The information I have learned here today will be a powerful resource for me in Washington to better inform my colleagues about the importance of ensuring that all students have access to life-saving vaccines, and to advocate for increased funding for federal immunization programs," Hoyer concluded.

Joined by Congressman Hoyer for the roundtable discussion were: Dr. William Icenhower, St. Mary's County Health Officer; Dr. Patricia Richardson, St. Mary's County Superintendent of Schools; Greg Reed, Program Director, Maryland Center for Immunization and Dr. John Krick, Director of the Office of Epidemiology and Disease Control Programs, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Nancy Luginbill, Diane McKinney, and Anita Stevens, St. Mary's County Health Department Officials; Trish Wince, St. Mary's Public School Health Coordinator; Tiffany Tate, Maryland Childhood Immunization Partnership / Maryland Partnership for Prevention Executive Director; and Deborah Kepferle, National Meningitis Association.

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