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Remarks on Signing the National Infant Immunization Week Proclamation

April 20, 1994

Thank you very much. I want to thank all the people who have participated in this wonderful program today and all of you who worked to put it together. I want to say a special word of appreciation to Secretary Shalala, who is the owner of a current Mustang. [Laughter]

You know, when we have events like this, sometimes I think that the people who are on the stage ought to be out in the audience, and the people who are in the audience should be up on the stage, because by and large, by the time we have an event like this, what we're doing is announcing something that the rest of you have been trying to get us to do for 5 or 10 years. [Laughter]

So I want to begin by just saying to all of you who have labored so long in this field, the Members of Congress, the people in our administration, to the citizens groups—I'm sorry Mrs. Carter couldn't be with us today, but I'm glad Mrs. Bumpers, Mrs. Riegle are here—to the advocacy groups, our friend Marian Wright Edelman, the head of the Children's Defense Fund, and so many others who are here. You made this day possible, and we thank you all for it.

The second thing I'd like to do is to thank people like Dr. Johnson, who are actually out there doing something about all these poor kids that a lot of other people just talk about.

If you think about what the Vice President said and what others said about the comparative global statistics in immunization and the trends and you think about how many other areas there are like that when our country, even though we have a very powerful economy and, thank goodness, a growing one with growing jobs where we still have these continuing problems, we really, for reasons no one fully understands, continue to resist disciplined, community-based organizations where we all look after one another without regard to our race or our income. We're just not as good at it as we ought to be. And we talk about it a lot better than we do it. And I think we all have to admit it. But we are trying to do better. And this is a truly remarkable initiative. This gives us a chance to put all of our actions where our words are.

Under our plan, every one of the things we could ever think of to do to get kids immunized will be done. And I appreciate what Dr. Johnson said about our health care plan because we also try in the health care plan to take care of the needs of our children and to do more primary and preventive work. And that goes along with the work that Senator Kennedy and others have spearheaded to try to expand the reach of Head Start to even younger children and to improve its quality.

We have got to do a better job of dealing with the health, the nutrition, the educational, and the emotional needs of our very youngest children if we expect to have the kind of future that America deserves.

Again, let me say to all of you, I am profoundly grateful for the work that has been done. I would be remiss if I didn't mention one of my pet projects, the national service program, AmeriCorps. Last year, 87 of our national service participants, in our very first summer of service, helped to immunize over 100,000 children in Texas. And it was a pretty good investment. So we will keep doing that. We'll keep working at it. Dr. Satcher, Dr. Elders, and others will keep spreading the word. But we know in the end, our ability to succeed depends upon the ability of grassroots-based community organizations to reach everybody in a disciplined way.

When I saw Secretary Riley sitting out here, I leaned over to Hillary and I said, "You know, you'd think that as long as we've been married, we've been asked and answered all the questions." I said, "Did you ever get any shots in school?" [Laughter] And she said, "Yes, I did." And I got my shots in school. That's where I got them. And then I got to thinking, listening to everybody talk, that our generation, all of us baby boomers, who are often known for other things, have a great debt to the immunization movement. We were the first generation of children in the very first year to be immunized against polio. My daughter cannot imagine what it's like to go to school as a first grader and be terrified that you're going to get polio and spend the rest of your life in an iron lung. But all of us grew up with that. Surely, those of us who have tangible, personal experience from the benefits of immunization can at long last solve this problem.

When I was a young man, I read a book by a southern author named James Agee about the Great Depression called, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men." Some of you may have seen it. It also has some of the most astonishing photographs ever taken by an American photographer, a man named Walker Evans. In this book, James Agee said something that I have carried with me for a long time now, and I'd like to close with these remarks and then get on with the business at hand. He said, "In every child who is born, under no matter what circumstances and no matter what parents, the potentiality of the whole human race is born again, and in him, too, once more, and of each of us, our terrific responsibility toward human life, toward the utmost idea of goodness, of the horror of error, and of God." That is what we are here about today. And we are bound to do a better job.

I now want to sign a proclamation designating National Infant Immunization Week. And once we've done that, we're going to see an example of what it is we are all talking about. We are going to see the first infant of the week being immunized right up here by Dr. Mohammed Akhter, the public health commissioner of the District of Columbia. The parents are Laura Loeb and Howard Morse, right? And their wonderful little daughter, Elizabeth. And for all of you here who are squeamish, relax; she is not going to be immunized with a shot. For all of us who had only shots in immunization, we sort of resent it, but—[laughter]—modern medical practice has permitted the public alleviation of pain. So let me sign the proclamation, and then we'll have the immunization.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:27 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Betty Bumpers, cofounder, and Lori Riegle, spokeswoman, Every Child By Two; Dr. Robert Johnson, director of adolescent and young adult medicine, New Jersey Medical School; and Dr. David Satcher, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The proclamation is listed in Appendix D at the end of this volume.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Signing the National Infant Immunization Week Proclamation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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