President Bush on Thursday appealed for stronger efforts to ensure that 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 health officials and children.
Bush and Health Secretary Louis W. Sullivan said "SWAT teams" from the Health and Human Services Department would visit six cities to look for ways to improve immunization levels. The cities are Philadelphia, Detroit, Phoenix, Dallas, San Diego and the area around Rapid City, S.D.
Bush's remarks drew a sharp response from Sen. Edward M. 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."
Measles once was thought to be on the verge of extinction, but it has surged to epidemic levels in recent years, the health department said, with the nation's youngest and poorest children among the most vulnerable.
Funding for federal vaccine programs rose from $98 million in 1988 to $218 million this year, with an additional $40 million proposed for fiscal 1992, according to health officials.
But the Children's Defense Fund last month said community health centers that serve the poor are running out of vaccines and cannot afford to buy more.