Why the Cost of Vaccines Is Soaring

Friday, July 25, 2014

The cost of vaccines has been soaring over the past 20 years in the United States. The cost of vaccines has been soaring over the past 20 years in the United States. (Copyright: InesBazdar/Shutterstock)

The cost of vaccines has gone from single digits to sometimes triple digits in the last two decades, creating dilemmas for doctors and patients and straining public health budgets. Some doctors have even stopped offering immunizations because they say they cannot afford them to because insurers often reimburse poorly. Elisabeth Rosenthal talks about the situation. Her article in the July 2 edition of The New York Times, “The Price of Prevention: Vaccine Costs Are Soaring,” is part of her ongoing series “Paying Till It Hurts.”

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Elisabeth Rosenthal

Comments [13]

MC from NYC

As a fan of the Lopate show, I was really disappointed by this show. It was fundamentally wrong on facts both on the part of Mr. Lopate and Ms. Rosenthal, and it was nearly as bad as the Fox News blitz against Obamacare. Fake and anecdotal facts and dangerously incorrect information are not the hallmark of a good NPR show but this one hit the mark.

Amongst the many factual errors, the one that stuck out was around the cost of vaccines development, which is NOT in research (i.e. the discovery of medicine) which the government subsidizes on occasion. The bulk of the cost is in development (i.e. clinical trials). The cost of clinical trials is many orders of magnitudes higher today for a vaccine today than in the 80s, which was Ms. Rosenthal's reference point, for a lot of good reasons (the FDA and EMA are a lot more conservative from a safety perspective). Does Ms. Rosenthal believe that a cheaper vaccine with less testing is a good idea? It would be cheaper for sure.

It easily costs ~$2B for a pediatric vaccine clinical trial program, and no one (not even the beloved European single payer countries) believe that there's a public/government/non-profit model for bringing vaccines to the patient beyond letting pharma companies pay for development (funded largely by mutual funds and pensions funds, including union funds), so while its great to pillory the private sector, where's the alternative?

And the Europeans reimburse pharma companies very well indeed. And yes - it costs more in the US than anywhere else, which is unfair, but that is a different problem to solve and argument to make (i.e. should we subsidize poor countries or not) than a fundamental argument against the drug development model.

Jul. 27 2014 05:11 PM
Emma from SI

smaller physicians and their circles might consider this sort of profit sharing economic model used in the UK by small business, and yes, the financials are available in the form of PDF downloads to check out:

Jul. 25 2014 04:23 PM
gary from queens

Why is the cost going up for manufacturers when they don't have to pay for tort liability coverage? Every product maker in the world must get insurance coverage to indemnify against lawsuits, EXCEPT VACCINE MAKERS. They have complete immunity from ANY liability for harm done by their products.

Further the "gold" standard for every drug is double-blind palcebo controlled test. That's what is done with all drugs----EXCEPT VACCINES. The vaccine industry uses a lower safety standard than in the drug industry, yet Rosenthal says that vaccine testing is what is driving the costs? Was that claim merely to blame consumers who have been calling for safer vaccines? How ironic----blame the victims.

Does Rosenthal provide any numbers to back up these claims, And if there are numbers can they be independently verified.?

In point of fact, the reason for the high price (not cost!) of vaccines is the same as the reason medical care is high----consumers do not purchase their insurance, and there's no price competition in the market. And vaccine makers have a captive market, in that vaccines are required to attend school. With Obamacare, medical providers will be given the same market conditions that holds vaccine consumers captive.

Anytime you want soaring prices for a product or service, you make it solely available via insurance, and put government in control of the market.

Jul. 25 2014 02:13 PM
Steven Cohen from NYC

While this segment was interesting, Elisabeth Rosenthal did not provide accurate and complete information on the issues. For example, she misspoke in saying that most of the people who have HPV infection are women. According to the CDC, several fold more men have genital warts (caused by HPV) than women The consequences of HPV infection are greater for women because of the risk of cervical cancer.

She also failed to make the link between the cost of the vaccine and its value in terms of preventing serious illness and the cost of treating that illness. It's fine to talk about the cost of vaccines as part of a series on medical costs, but your show generally provides a more complete perspective on an issue. Here, it would be much more meaningful to discuss vaccine cost from a public health perspective that takes into account the value of the vaccine in addition to its cost.

A public health professional would be better able to address both the costs and the value of vaccines. Your guest provided a mixture of correct, incorrect, and incomplete information so much so that your listeners did not get a full perspective on this issue. Please consider a follow-up with an expert in vaccines and the public health--perhaps an MD, MPH from the CDC?

Given the importance of immunizations to the social good and the fear-mongering fringe who try to convince people not to vaccinate themselves and their children, this issue is too important to address in the manner that Elisabeth Rosenthal did on your show.

Jul. 25 2014 12:55 PM
Pascale from Atlanta

Yes, I'm Canadian and let me tell you that if we are ready to pay the price, we can go to a private clinic and we won't have to wait at all. And what a myth indeed to think that people in the US are better off because they pay more for the same health care services. Duh, people here pay more but they don't get better care. I'm not saying that they don't get good care, just that we don't have to pay that much to receive the same quality of care in Canada. People in the US are being robbed by the health care insurance companies (when they can afford to have one). What a shame.

Jul. 25 2014 12:43 PM

Looks like we've all forgotten health class. HPV causes genital warts in both men and women. It's only somewhat (15-20 years) recently that the connection between HPV and cancer has been known.

Jul. 25 2014 12:41 PM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

The country needs to form a medical service academy - along the lines of our other service academies. Undergrad degree and a medical degree - nursing, dentistry, GP, etc. - all on the public dime....If you qualify and can get a nomination from your Representative. You pay back with six-ten years of service AFTER you graduate.

Jul. 25 2014 12:39 PM

You didn't actually just argue that you shouldn't get vaccinated for something that just PREVENTS something? You mean like polio? Like Measles, like whooping cough? By the way the WAY that women get HPV is from MEN they have unprotected SEX from. If MEN don't have HPV, then women don't GET HPV, and they don't get cervical cancer. Come on, if the author is a doctor, she should know this.

Jul. 25 2014 12:32 PM
Robert from NYC

Trust me many gay men also get HPV which can cause anal cancer.

Jul. 25 2014 12:31 PM
Pascale from Atlanta

When it comes to health care in the US, it's always about making as much money as possible at the expense of the population. There is something awfully wrong with the health care system here. Why people accept this situation without complaining more is beyond me...

Jul. 25 2014 12:24 PM
Dorothy from Manhattan

Re: Shingles vaccine

My doctor wrote a prescription for shingles vaccine and it was filled at my corner pharmacy. I took it to the doctor's office and he administered the shot.

At the time I had a Medicare Advantage plan and my co-pay was about $45. I noted recently a sign at Rite Aid that they administer shingles vaccine. I don't know the cost.

Jul. 25 2014 12:20 PM
Robert from NYC

THis is the same baloney as every other commodity in this country. So now even the pharmacos are joining the "rip-off" era of, well, ripping off everyone especial for items that are necessary to the consumer. Pharmaceutical companies are making billions and now probably trillions of dollars on "keeping us healthy". Their CEOs have no room in their pockets for the money they reaping in but they can afford to have larger pockets sewn into their clothes!!! No this is the great American rip-off on everything. The sad thing is this is medicine and it involves often preventing death. And of course we have a government who gets loads of money from the pharma mafia lobbyists and refuse to pass bills to prevent this rip-off, in fact they remove items from bills that are put there to prevent these rip-offs. This would be criminal if the laws were passed. It sure as hell is immoral. I bet the CEO and his family get these vaccines free of charge, it's in the benefits. This is the great American shame and is the only time we can call America great anymore because we've degenerated to lower than slime in our social and cultural and financial institutions, nothing the founding fathers would be proud of but who cares!

Jul. 25 2014 12:19 PM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

Gardasil - for my virginal teen-age son - is $400. We have it in our power to wipe out this vector for cervical cancer yet we don't pursue it. How sick is that?

Jul. 25 2014 12:17 PM

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