NCL testimony before CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices highlights Hep. B vaccine disparities

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay,, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling,, (202) 207-2832

February 24, 2021

NCL’s Associate Director of Health Policy Nissa Shaffi testified before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices today. Read her testimony.

José R. Romero, MD, FAAP, Chair
Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road, N.E., Mailstop A27
Atlanta, GA 30329-4027

RE: Docket No. CDC-2021-0008; Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)

Good Afternoon. I am Nissa Shaffi and I will be presenting public comment on behalf of the National Consumers League. For over 120 years, NCL has championed vaccine education and access for consumers who depend on these lifesaving medical interventions. We extend our gratitude to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for the opportunity to serve as a voice for consumers.

NCL remains committed to educating consumers on the value and safety of immunizations. During the COVID-19 pandemic immunization rates have dropped drastically, which means that our work is needed more than ever. Even under ordinary circumstances, vaccines are underutilized in adult populations, especially among racial and ethnic minority communities.

Health disparities contribute largely to the burden for Hepatitis B infection, with Asian/Pacific islanders and non-Hispanic black communities having the highest rates of HBV-related death. Despite vaccine recommendations, there is an estimated prevalence for chronic HBV infection in the US of nearly 1.6 million persons (range 1.2–2.5 million).

NCL is concerned that the updated guidance for those over 60 years of age with diabetes getting vaccinated only upon shared decision making with their providers will not address the health disparities that persist. The populations at greatest risk for HepB infection are those that are more likely to lack access to health care and not have a primary care medical home. NCL would like to see the CDC support a large-scale education and outreach campaign to raise awareness of the risk of HepB in older adults and call for increased HepB screening in high-risk communities across the country.

NCL similarly shared its disappointment in response to ACIP’s 2019 recommendations for the pneumococcal vaccine to be administered for those over 65 years of age with shared decision making based on the rationale that childhood vaccinations had dramatically reduced the spread of this disease. However, pneumococcal disease continues to result in an estimated 150,000 hospitalizations per year. And adults over age 65 remain at increased risk for pneumococcal disease.

In light of the drop in childhood immunizations induced by the pandemic, the CDC may want to issue caution statements to providers that herd immunity may have diminished compared to years prior for many of the diseases we target with the most commonly recommended vaccines. As a commitment to our advocacy, NCL continues to reaffirm that vaccines save lives and will continue to support increased immunizations for preventable diseases.

In closing, we encourage ACIP to maintain effective public messaging and strong vaccine recommendations to instill vaccine confidence, so that the American public feels safe and informed in their decisions to vaccinate across the lifespan.

Thank you for your consideration of our views on this important public health issue.



Nissa Shaffi
Associate Director of Health Policy
National Consumers League



About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

Preventing the spread of COVID-19: Testing & genetic sequencing efforts in response to emerging variants

With growing concerns regarding the impact of emerging COVID-19 variants, testing and genetic sequencing are critical components of broader return-to-work, return-to-school, and public health surveillance efforts.

Addressing health inequity: A critical step towards a successful national vaccine rollout strategy

Nissa Shaffi

By Nissa Shaffi, NCL Associate Director of Health Policy

The COVID-19 vaccines have provided much needed doses of hope as consumers eagerly wait for their shots. However — due to competing pressures of managing inadequate supplies, complex state-managed distribution plans, emerging viral variants, and unaddressed health disparities — the national vaccine rollout has fallen short of its intended goals.

To date, more than 40 million have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 16+ million people are currently fully-vaccinated. On average, providers around the country are administering 1.6 million doses per day. According to experts, 70 to 90 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated if we are to achieve herd immunity and return to normal everyday activities.

The delays in the vaccine rollout have been attributed to variations among states and territories, which have been expected to set their own distribution plans and eligibility criteria. All states have made the vaccine available for healthcare workers, and nearly 43 states and the District of Columbia have expanded their eligibility to include occupation-based vaccination programs. These include members of the non-medical essential workforce, like grocery store employees and police officers.

While vaccine hesitancy among some Americans remains a problem, it’s becoming less of a concern as more and more people are getting vaccinated. COVID-19 has further exposed both vulnerabilities in our infrastructure and social determinants of health — conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect their overall health — that threaten to impede access. Throughout the rollout, vulnerable communities have experienced barriers in booking vaccine appointments due to limited access to broadband, phones, and accessible, affordable transportation.

Vaccine hesitancy and social determinants of health remain the primary obstacles in the rollout process. Going forward, addressing health disparities will be a critical strategy in realizing a successful national response, because — without health equity — the virus will continue to ravage the most vulnerable communities. The National Consumers League supports comprehensive strategies to address the glaring disparities in health and access that COVID-19 has exposed.

NCL applauds White House efforts to expand vaccine rollout

For immediate release: February 22, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) strongly supports the White House’s latest efforts to ramp up supplies to help expedite the national vaccine rollout plan. The Biden Administration has unveiled plans to mobilize federally-organized distribution channels to ensure Americans get as many shots in arms as possible. President Biden has promised to increase vaccine supply capacity to inoculate 100 million people within the first 100 days of his presidency. The ultimate goal is to have 300 million vaccines (600 million doses) in supply by this summer, which means that at least 50 percent of the population can be partially vaccinated by June. At this rate, we can expect that nearly 90 percent of the population will be fully vaccinated by December.

To meet these demands, the President has invoked the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of vaccines and personal protective equipment (PPE). The Administration has also partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to set up vaccination sites around the country. To help expand capacity and access to vulnerable communities, President Biden has galvanized Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in the national response. As of February 15, FQHCs will receive supplies of the vaccines to reach individuals most at risk during the pandemic. Community pharmacies have also been engaged in rollout efforts to broaden access to historically disadvantaged communities, located farther from health services.

NCL appreciates the confidence this administration has placed in community health centers and pharmacies as a critical component in the national COVID-19 response.

“NCL has long recognized the vital role that pharmacists and other health professions play in our nation’s public health, through our decade of hosting the public health outreach campaign, Script Your Future,” said NCL Associate Director of Health Policy Nissa Shaffi. “We commend the Administration’s efforts to augment access to vaccines by leveraging federal and community resources. These newly-forged relationships will bring the nation closer to reaching herd immunity and making strides in achieving health equity.”

About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

Does your baby’s food contain toxic metals?

By Nailah John, Program Associate

As a mother, I once fed my baby with baby food only to later be told that some baby foods contain toxic metals at levels that exceed what experts and governing bodies say are safe. Congressional investigators have found dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals in many popular baby food brands. The World Health Organization says that the top 10 chemicals of concern for infants and children include arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.  This exposure to heavy metals in childhood is linked to permanent dips in IQ, an increased risk of future criminal activity, and damaged long-term brain function.

Some pediatricians and children’s health experts say that heavy metals are found in soil and contaminate crops grown in it. Heavy metals can also get into food during manufacturing and packaging processes. However, the amount that is allowed in baby food products exceeds the limit. The nonprofit Healthy Babies led a national investigation and found that 95 percent of baby foods tested contain toxic chemicals. Fifteen foods accounted for half the risk, with rice-based foods at the top. Making these food and lifestyle changes can help reduce toxic metal residue:

  • Choose rice-free snacks over rice-based ones. Try a frozen banana or a chilled cucumber instead of rice-based teething biscuits.
  • Opt for oatmeal over rice cereal.
  • Give tap water over fruit juice.
  • Rather than sticking strictly to baby food made from sweet potatoes and carrots (which contain higher levels of metals), opt for baby food made from other fruits and vegetables.
  • Make your own baby food by buying, washing, and blending your own fruits and vegetables.
  • Don’t get stuck in the baby food phase. Baby food is meant to be transitional, used only for a few months. Introduce your babies to sources of protein like fish—salmon, tuna, cod, whitefish, and pollock.
  • Visit the pediatrician often in the first two years of your child’s life. This can help to identify any developmental problems.
  • Limit heavy metal exposure in other ways. Heavy metals are also found in peeling or chipping paint in older homes built before 1978.
  • Don’t smoke or vape as secondhand and even thirdhand smoke (or residue from smoking on furniture or clothes) may expose children to metals like cadmium and lead.

While individuals can do their part, the most significant changes will have to come through enforced legislation and stronger regulations on baby food. According to the recent congressional report, toxic metals in tested baby food eclipse safe levels, “including results up to 91 times the arsenic level, up to 177 times the lead level, up to 69 times the cadmium level, and up to 5 times the mercury level.” The report recommended that the Food and Drug Administration require baby food manufacturers to test their finished products for toxic heavy metals and label products that contain them. One of the most powerful ways of creating change is by calling your Member of Congress and urging them to use their voice to address the issue of heavy toxic metals in baby foods. As a mother, I plan to do so and so should you.

National Consumers League statement in support of HR 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act

For immediate release: February 18, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) is proud to join hundreds of like-minded groups in supporting HR 40, which would create a commission to study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans. The House Judiciary Committee hearing on HR 40 on February 17, 2021 gave witnesses the opportunity to talk about the reason for and impact of reparations. The hearing also included several witnesses who oppose the concept of reparations.

Introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), HR 40 would create a commission to identify: (1) the role of the federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery, (2) forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and (3) lingering negative effects of slavery on living African-Americans and society.

This statement is attributable to NCL Board Chair Dominique Warren:

America has never reckoned with its 400 years of enslavement of 12 million Africans, brought to our shores shackled in fetid ships where huge numbers died of disease. As Michelle Singletary, Washington Post columnist has observed, reparations are not handouts, they are redress.

Beginning in 1619, enslaved people were brought to America and sold by those who profited from the slave trade, bought by plantation owners, farmers, businesses, and households, separated from siblings, parents, spouses and children and forced to work for free. After the Civil War, many freed slaves purchased land, only to see it stolen. Prosperous Black towns were looted and burned. Blacks have been beaten and murdered, many lynched on false allegations of criminal conduct  because of their race. Throughout America’s history, Blacks have been denied the right to vote and redlined from living in certain neighborhoods. Black Americans were and still are discriminated against in the workplace and prevented from earning fair and equal pay.

A new book on reparations, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century,” recommends a number of possible compensation programs, including the establishment of a trust that could make grants to eligible Blacks to help start a business or buy a home.

NCL agrees with these recommendations, made by authors William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen, that “the U.S. government, as the federal authority, bears responsibility for sanctioning, maintaining, and enabling slavery, legal segregation, and continued racial inequality.”

America has benefited from the institution of slavery. Segregation and voter suppression has given advantages to White Americans in the form of cheap Black labor, reduced employment competition, and the power to elect politicians who enacted laws that worked in the best interest of Whites and against equal opportunities for Black people.

Redress is part of the American justice system, indeed part of the international justice system. The federal government issued an apology and cash reparations to Japanese Americans who were interned in camps during World War II.  Germany paid reparations to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

Studying reparations for African Americans as one approach to redress by setting up a Commission to thoroughly study the cost of slavery, Jim Crow policies that followed it, and the ongoing discrimination against black Americans would truly begin the national discussion and the reconciliation and healing that needs to take place. The National Consumers League strongly supports HR 40 and urges its swift passage by members of Congress.

About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

National Consumers League supports the FAIR Act to end forced arbitration

For immediate release: February 17, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, 207-2832

Washington, DC—NCL is pleased to support the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act (FAIR Act), a bill to re-establish Americans’ 7th Amendment right to seek justice and accountability through the court system. NCL applauds Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) for introducing this critically important consumer and worker protection legislation as well as the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law of the House Judiciary Committee for holding its February 11 hearing on the bill.

The bill previously passed the House of Representatives during the 116th Congress on Sept. 20, 2019 by a strong bipartisan vote of 225 to 186. The FAIR Act (H.R. 963) would eliminate forced arbitration clauses in employment, consumer, and civil rights cases and would allow consumers and workers to agree to arbitration after a dispute occurs. The House bill has 155 cosponsors.

This statement is attributable to NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg:

Forced arbitration is a glaring marketplace injustice that undermines key worker and consumer protections. Thanks to a series of unfortunate Supreme Court decisions, forced arbitration clauses are ubiquitous throughout the marketplace. Thus, it falls to Congress to correct this injustice. Arbitration clauses are buried in the fine print of consumer and employment contracts for everything from cell phones, credit cards, cable service, nursing homes, employment, bank loans, student loans, apartment leases, and video subscriptions. Their practical effect is to block consumers’ and workers’ right to go to court. The actual arbitration process is fraught with problems; everything can be done in secret and without public rulings. Discovery is limited, and there is no meaningful judicial review, so consumers and employees are often unable to appeal a decision even if the arbitrator gets it wrong. Corporations can also choose where the arbitration will take place, what the rules will be, and how the costs will be borne.

Simply put, arbitration lacks the safeguards of a fair, impartial, and accessible court proceeding to protect people and hold accountable corporations that have committed widespread abuses, or marketed unsafe products or services.

As the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said about the Supreme Court’s rulings on forced arbitration, they ‘have predictably resulted in the deprivation of consumers’ rights to seek redress for losses, and turning the coin, they have insulated powerful economic interests from liability for violations of consumer protection laws.’

Congress never intended this. The Federal Arbitration Act was enacted in 1925 to give businesses — with relatively equal bargaining power — options for resolving their business disputes.

The FAIR Act would even the playing field. Contrary to industry arguments, it would not ‘ban’ arbitration; instead, it would stop forced arbitration from being imposed as a precondition for obtaining a product, or for obtaining or continuing service or employment, and closing off access to the courts for consumer law claims, employment law claims, civil rights claims, and antitrust claims by small businesses. Once a dispute actually arises and the stakes are clear, consumers, workers, or small businesses could freely choose arbitration, if they determine it to be a better option for them than the courts.

NCL encourages all members of Congress to support the FAIR Act; it is pro-worker, pro-consumer, and pro-small business legislation and helps to bring fairness to the marketplace and restore the basic American right to our day in court.

About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

NCL supports the Black Maternal Health Momnibus

For immediate release: February 16, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) is proud to support the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act introduced last week by Representatives Lauren Underwood (D-IL) and Alma Adams (D-NC), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), and members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus. The Momnibus includes 12 bills intended to comprehensively address the maternal health crisis that disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and women of color in this country.

Among other measures, the Momnibus calls for improvements to data collection and quality measures to help policymakers better understand the causes of maternal mortality in the United States. NCL has long supported policies to improve maternal health outcomes and advocated for increased access to healthcare for vulnerable populations. NCL’s founders supported early studies on the causes of infant mortality at the Hull House in Chicago in the 1890’s.

“It’s inexcusable for a nation as advanced and well-resourced as the United States to have the highest pregnancy-related death rate in the developed world. Our current healthcare system is failing to protect black women, who are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications,” said NCL Director of Health Policy Jeanette Contreras.

“We must also recognize the association between institutional racism and adverse birth outcomes among Black, Indigenous, and women of color,” said Contreras. The Momnibus provides investments to address the social determinants of health that create inequality, such as access to housing, transportation, and adequate nutrition. The legislation also provides funding to the community-based organizations whose work is integral to the support system shown to be effective at improving maternal health outcomes. The legislation further ensures that our most vulnerable moms have access to quality care throughout the pregnancy and during the critical first year of the infant’s life.

“NCL strongly supports the proposal to extend Medicaid and CHIP coverage to 12-months for postpartum care to mothers,” said Contreras. “As well as the legislation’s investments in diversifying the perinatal workforce—critical to providing culturally competent care to Black, Indigenous, and women of color. We enthusiastically call on Congress to support the passage of this comprehensive legislation to address the escalating maternal mortality crisis in this country.”

About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

What the new COVID-19 variants mean for consumers

Nissa Shaffi

By Nissa Shaffi, NCL Associate Director of Health Policy

Viruses mutate, and SARS CoV-2—more commonly known as COVID-19—is no exception to that rule. When a virus evolves and mutates from its predominant virus, all that we know about it changes as well. It may be too soon to glean what impact the variants could have on vaccine rollout and efficacy, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have provided the detailed evidence they’ve uncovered thus far.

Three new strains of COVID-19 have been identified presently in four countries: the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7), Japan and Brazil (P.1), and South Africa (B.1.351). These new variants have not been observed to be more deadly, nor have they made people sicker, but one thing they all have in common is that they are more contagious than COVID-19. Cases for these strains have been found in 33 countries, including the United States.

While the variants all differ slightly in their function, they all possess a specific mutation called D614G — a shared trait that allows these new strains to spread more quickly than the predominant virus. The strain found in the United Kingdom, B.1.1.7, has an estimated 50 percent transmissibility rate, or how quickly it spreads from person to person. Considering ongoing efforts to release new vaccines for inclusion in a national rollout to curb this pandemic, a mutating virus presents unique challenges for an already overburdened healthcare system.

So, what does this mean for travel, testing, vaccines, and so on? The CDC has released a helpful questionnaire for individuals to consider before they pursue travel, requesting that people delay non-essential travel whenever possible. For those that plan to travel, the CDC has released guidance which states that individuals traveling via air into the United States must provide proof of a negative test result or documentation of recovery, before boarding their flight. Masks are required on all forms of public transportation, including planes. The CDC has issued travel notices regarding global travel and each country’s corresponding risk-level.

Scientists are continuously gathering data to determine how the variants will impact the efficacy of certain therapies, vaccines, and tests. Until further evidence suggests, states are reluctant to enforce stringent lockdown procedures. According to public health experts, the best way to rein in the transmission of these highly contagious variants and to ensure a successful vaccine rollout, is to practice physical distancing and double masking. Layering two masks, as double masking suggests, provide added layers of protection and a better-fitting face covering. Not all masks are equal. To learn more about how to maximize protection against the coronavirus with masks, click here.

As new information emerges, it is important to adjust our safety measures to successfully navigate an ever evolving situation. Consumers are understandably experiencing pandemic-fatigue. Rest assured that the fruits of our collective efforts are closer than they appear, if only we work together towards protecting ourselves and our communities from unnecessary transmission.

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