Underwood, Smith, Schrier, Castor, Kuster Introduce Legislation to Boost Vaccination Rates and Keep Families Healthy

February 2, 2021
Press Release
The Community Immunity During COVID-19 Act would help communities bolster COVID-19 vaccination efforts and increase immunization rates for life-saving vaccines

WASHINGTON— Representative Lauren Underwood (IL-14), Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), and Representatives Kim Schrier, M.D. (WA-08), Kathy Castor (FL-14), and Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02) introduced new legislation to support local COVID-19 vaccination efforts and reverse dangerous drops in vaccination rates for other life-saving immunizations for children and adults. The Community Immunity During COVID-19 Act would provide robust funding to support local initiatives to boost vaccination rates during the COVID-19 pandemic, including efforts to build vaccine confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine, increase immunization rates for other recommended vaccines, and ensure that people continue to access primary care services. The legislation also ensures that immunization providers and local organizations can lead community-specific initiatives that will reach all community members, particularly underserved populations. 

“Illinois communities need more resources to deliver COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible to the people who need them most,” said Rep. Underwood. “I’m leading the Community Immunity During COVID-19 Act to deliver urgently needed resources to public health departments and their local partners to meet the demand for COVID-19 vaccinations and make sure children and adults don’t fall behind on other life-saving vaccines during this pandemic. By investing in community-specific initiatives to increase immunization rates, we can prevent more avoidable disease and save lives.”  

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we can’t afford to fall behind on routine vaccinations and risk losing progress in preventing once-common diseases, like measles,” said Sen. Smith. “This is especially important for children, who are recommended to get pediatric vaccinations at certain stages in their development. In my home state of Minnesota, up-to-date vaccinations have unfortunately declined to less than 50 percent among most children under 2. I'm introducing the Senate companion to Rep. Underwood’s legislation to boost vaccination rates during the pandemic, and will work to move it forward."

“As a pediatrician and a Congresswoman, I am especially concerned about the decrease in routine immunizations children have received during the pandemic. Part of this hesitation is due to misinformation and part of it is due to logistics of getting children immunized during a pandemic. We know that immunizations work and that they protect us and our community as a whole. Now that we have safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19, I’m glad that the Community Immunity During COVID-19 Act will ensure that we have a robust information campaign about why getting the COVID-19 vaccine is important and will invest in the partnerships we need to get all vaccines into arms to keep our community and families safe,” said Representative Schrier 

"As we continue to combat the coronavirus pandemic, we must ensure Americans can keep up with their preventive health care needs and get medical care when they need it, including standard immunizations that are recommended by the CDC," said Representative Kuster.  "We are one year into the COVID-19 crisis, and immunization rates for other vaccine-preventable diseases have dramatically declined and remain very low. Mitigating the severity of the ongoing flu season along with other outbreaks is critical in supporting our health care system, getting COVID-19 vaccines efficiently and equitably distributed, and ensuring hospitals do not become overrun. The Community Immunity During COVID-19 Act will help this effort and support our frontline health care workers to ensure they have the resources they need to respond to this pandemic and keep our communities safe." 

“Communities in Florida and across the nation are working tirelessly to get COVID-19 shots into the arms of Americans in an equitable way. This effort highlights the importance of immunizations in our everyday lives. In partnership with Florida’s Moffitt Cancer Center, I spearheaded an initiative to increase the uptake of the cancer-preventing HPV vaccination. I’ve seen firsthand the value of community outreach and education, especially in underserved communities. Vaccines keep us healthy and save lives, and I am grateful for Congresswoman Underwood’s leadership in this effort to boost immunization rates and protect our health,” Representative Castor.   

The Community Immunity During COVID-19 Act would: 

  • Provide $560 million to state and local public health departments to promote Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices-recommended vaccinations during the COVID-19 public health emergency by: 
    • Establishing and strengthening partnerships with health care providers, schools, pharmacies, vaccine coalitions, and community-based organizations; 
    • Developing culturally and linguistically appropriate information about vaccines and disseminating throughout communities; 
    • Conducting outreach to raise awareness about programs like Vaccines for Children; 
    • Supporting COVID-19 vaccination initiatives; and 
    • Evaluating efforts to improve the effectiveness of future initiatives to promote vaccinations. 
  • Fund the development and dissemination of vaccine counseling guidance for community immunization providers to be able to effectively communicate with patients about COVID-19 vaccines. 

A summary of the legislation can be found here.

The Community Immunity During COVID-19 Act has gained support from many of the leading health and health care organizations across the country and throughout Illinois, including members of the Adult Vaccine Access Coalition, American Academy of Pediatrics, Federation of American Hospitals, and Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs.  

“Immunization rates have fallen drastically during the pandemic, and pediatricians have serious concerns for what it means for the health of children and families. Missing routine immunizations puts our communities at risk of a secondary outbreak while we continue to combat the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. The Community Immunity During COVID-19 Act will work to address this concerning trend with urgently needed funding for state and local public health departments to partner with health care providers, schools, vaccine coalitions and other organizations to promote routine immunizations. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges Congress to swiftly advance this important legislation and thanks Representative Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Senator Tina Smith (D.-Minn.) for their ongoing commitment to this issue,” said American Academy of Pediatrics President Lee Savio Beers, MD, FAAP. 

“To defeat the virus, job one is to get shots into arms. I commend Representative Underwood and Senator Smith for again introducing The Community Immunity During COVID-19 Act, which provides much needed funds to accelerate vaccination rates for COVID-19 and build greater confidence in immunization for communities across the nation. When it comes to equitable access to safe and effective vaccinations it should be no holds barred,” said Chip Kahn, President and CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals  

"As the public health professionals charged with promoting the health and well-being of women and children nationwide, our members have been monitoring and working to address an alarming decline in routine immunizations during the COVID-19 public health emergency,” said Jonathan Webb, CEO of the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs. "We applaud Rep. Underwood and Sen. Smith for proposing legislation to help keep our nation, especially our nation’s children, on schedule with routine vaccinations and to lay the groundwork for trusted community outreach regarding approved COVID-19 vaccines." 

“Especially in the midst of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to invest in our kids’ health. Routine immunizations are a simple, yet powerful way to protect our community as a whole. This bill will provide the needed funding to expand vaccination efforts, whether through disseminating culturally appropriate information or expanding outreach and partnerships, so that we can ensure that every child and family is protected,” said Dr. Marc Gorelick, President and CEO of Children's Minnesota.