Who was Betty Bumpers?

Only when every child has completed his or her series of immunizations will our job be completed.

Even as some schools and communities continue to face outbreaks of measles, chicken pox, and other vaccine-preventable diseases, there is a very good chance that your kids are in a school where you don’t have to worry about them getting sick.

There is also a good chance that you have no idea who made that possible.

Who was Betty Bumpers?

Sure, a lot of it has to do with all of the parents who are making the right choice in vaccinating and protecting their kids.

And of course, there are the folks who actually developed the vaccines.

But there was a time when we had many vaccines and kids still weren’t getting protected.

“I don’t think that there is anything more important than immunizing our children and preventing unnecessary suffering. We’ve seen too much of that and it’s been so exciting now to see immunization rates going up. Betty Bumpers and I have worked on this for a long time, but Betty Bumpers is the real hero. She has done more for immunizations than any one person in this whole country.”

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter

That changed in the early 1970s, when Betty Bumpers, as the First Lady of Arkansas, worked to raise immunization rates in her state, with the Every Child By ’74 campaign.

The Every Child in '74 immunization program immunized over 300,000 children in Arkansas.
The Every Child in ’74 immunization program immunized over 300,000 children in Arkansas.

She didn’t stop in Arkansas though.

“I believe our program, based upon volunteers and government agencies already in pace, has been tremendously successful.”

Betty Bumpers

In 1975, she told a Senate subcommittee that her immunization program could serve as a model for other states too.

“Measles incidence declined dramatically after large vaccination campaigns, but transmission was not interrupted. The licensure of rubella vaccine in 1969 led to mass campaigns to immunize children to avert an anticipated repeat of the tragic epidemic of 1964–65, which resulted in the births of approximately 20,000 infants with congenital rubella syndrome. The rubella campaigns diverted attention and funding from measles, resulting in a resurgence of measles. Federal funding for Section 317 declined during the early to mid-1970s. Immunization coverage fell, and disease increased.”

Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, Immunizations, and MMWR — 1961–2011

A few years later, President Jimmy Carter announced the National Childhood Immunization Initiative of 1977, a program that was stimulated by the efforts of Betty Bumpers, with Rosalynn Carter.

In addition to increased spending on immunization programs, we soon had laws in every state requiring students to be vaccinated before they could attend school, and not surprisingly, measles cases quickly dropped.

It didn’t last.

Without support for immunization programs from the Reagan administration, vaccination rates dropped and measles cases soared.
The Role of Measles Elimination in Development of a National Immunization Program

In the year’s that followed the Carter administration, Federal support for vaccine programs reached a low point, as rates of children living in poverty and without health insurance also increased.

To help combat this rise in vaccine-preventable disease, Betty Bumpers, again with Rosaylnn Carter, launched Every Child By Two – Carter/Bumpers Champions for Immunization.

Founded in 1991, Every Child By Two, now Vaccinate Your Family, has worked to raise awareness about the importance of getting vaccinated on time and on schedule. This was especially important at the time, when many preschool age kids weren’t getting vaccinated. And it still is, as misinformation about vaccines continues to scare some parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

She also worked with her husband, Senator Dale Bumpers, to encourage Bill Clinton’s administration to develop the Childhood Immunization Initiative, which he proposed in 1993, and to pass the Vaccines for Children Program, which was created by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993.

The Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center wad dedicated in 1999.

In addition to her work helping get kids vaccinated, Betty Bumpers:

She is truly a hero and should be remembered for all of the work she did.

Whether folks understand it or not, it is because of the work of Betty Bumpers that even as some folks skip or delay their child’s vaccines, the outbreaks they cause are eventually contained before they get out of control.

Betty Bumpers was a champion in our efforts to reduce the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases among children in the United States.  She played a major leadership role as 1st Lady of Arkansas in improving immunization in that state and was inspirational in launching the first major Presidential Initiative on Immunization during the late 1970s.  She continued to be a major immunization advocate through much of her life launching “Every Child By Two (ECBT)” which she chaired along with Mrs. Rosalyn Carter, now “Vaccinate Your Family”.

Walter Orenstein

That work will continue to save the lives of millions of children, at least it will as long as we don’t let folks chip away at it, allowing them to abuse exemptions and spread propaganda, scaring parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

That’s why we all must continue her work

For as Betty Bumpers said, “only when every child has completed his or her series of immunizations will our job be completed.”

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