President Bush on Thursday appealed for stronger efforts to ensure children are immunized to fight a measles epidemic and other diseases. "Don't take a chance," he told parents. "In the 1990s, no child should be at risk to deadly diseases like diphtheria, polio or . . . measles," the president said at a Rose Garden ceremony attended by state and local health officials and children.
He promised the youngsters his remarks would be brief, joking, "As with immunization, this will only hurt a little."
And in a direct appeal to parents, Bush said: "Don't take a chance. The facilities are there. The vaccines are available. Call your local public health official or your own physician. Please, make sure your child is immunized."
Bush and Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan said HHS "SWAT teams" would visit six cities to look for ways to improve immunization levels.
"They want to learn why kids aren't getting immunized," Bush said. "They want to get every community mobilized."
Bush's remarks drew a sharp response from Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.
"Outreach programs are inadequate, clinics are underfunded, and vaccines are too expensive," Kennedy said. "We don't need a six-city road show to study the problem. We need a genuine federal commitment to see that every child is immunized."
Congress has consistently appropriated more money than the Bush administration sought for federal vaccination programs.