By Chris Adams

Vaccines protect individuals against the diseases of the public – and they protect the general public against those individuals who have diseases.

And at the center of that are the vaccine recommendations developed by federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are now more than a dozen vaccines recommended for all children. How those recommendations came about was the focus of a session by Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of medicine and of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, with National Press Foundation fellows.

“The prevention of disease on the front end is really the highest goal of medicine,” he said.

Schaffner is also a long-serving member of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the body that makes vaccine recommendations. He has been associated with the committee in some capacity since 1982.

The committee was established in 1964 to guide vaccination practices in public health clinics and advise the director of the CDC and the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. It harmonizes its recommendations with major medical groups, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, which then are vital to circulating committee recommendations to its physician members. The committee has several different working groups – on influenza, for example, or combination vaccines – and pulls in members from other federal agencies, researchers, and representatives of medical societies and other groups.

Schaffner also detailed the Vaccines for Children Program, which was passed by Congress in 1993 and works to provide vaccines to children whose parents or guardians may not be able to afford them. (Children whose health insurance covers the cost of vaccinations are not eligible for the program’s vaccines.)

Schaffner calls immunizations one of the great public health successes of the 20th century and the childhood program an “unsung triumph.”

“It guarantees that until the 19th birthday, we have a reasonably comprehensive program that covers every child in this country,” he said. “It’s been stunningly successful.”