Monday, January 14, 2013

The Profit of Vaccinations

The New York Times recently published an article about the flu season which shows that the levels of deaths have officially crossed over into "epidemic" territory.  The full article can be found here:  Flu Season Deaths Reach Epidemic Level but May Be at Peak, C.D.C. Says

This is a well balanced article speaking about the impact of the flu as well as explaining that the flu vaccine isn't nearly as effective as some other vaccines like those for the norovirus (aka: the "stomach flu" or gastroenteritis) or pertussis (aka: whooping cough).  Part of this is obviously due to how quickly flu viruses mutate, but another aspect that could be partly responsible is the simple fact that on any given year only around a third of the population bothers to actually get a vaccine.  This means there is a much greater chance that the virus can spread among those who have no protection from the vaccine, as well as among those who the vaccine wasn't effective.

Clearly there are failures in the system and improvements must be made.  Not only do we need better vaccines, but we need to do a better job informing the public as to the benefits.  The good news is we appear to be making progress on both of these fronts, and the percentage of those who receive flu vaccines is on the rise each year.  There are also new vaccines in development that hope to address some of the problems with the current targeted vaccines although progress is slow, and funding is difficult to obtain.

This latter point is one which I wanted to speak about, because all too often we hear antivaxxers complain that vaccines are merely a profit mechanism for pharmaceutical companies and that there is no true benefit.  As the article explains it could take as much as $1 Billion to actually bring a vaccine to market, which at first glance seems like an insurmountable figure.  If a new vaccine was to be developed which either prevented the flu or even merely significantly reduced the chances of contracting a flu virus and if the usage of that vaccine was on par with vaccines for MMR or Hib, chances are we would see a vaccine acceptance rate somewhere above 90%.

So let's be conservative and use a vaccination rate of only 80% for the "one-time" flu vaccine.  We know not everyone would bother to be vaccinated the first year, but after a few years when people realized they no longer need an annual flu vaccine, they would probably be more willing to get the single vaccine, and since many other vaccines have rates well above 90%, I don't think 80% is that unbelievable.

So if we focus on the United States alone, we know there are around 312,000,000 (312M) people who could potentially be vaccinated.  80% of this is around 250,000,000 people who would likely receive a flu vaccine.  So let's assume the cost of this vaccine is $35.  The current wholesale costs of single year flu vaccines is closer to $10, but a one-time vaccine is likely to be incrementally higher due to the complexity.  For example an adult vaccine for MMR costs around $35 while the vaccine for varicella is over $60.  A childhood vaccine for Hib may be only $12 while rotavirus can be over $70, so it isn't hard to a flu vaccine could cost at least $35 wholesale - at least for the first few years after release.

Ok, so now we have 250,000,000 potential customers each of which will spend $35 for a grand total of $8,750,000,000 ($8.75B).  Even if we assume only a 50% vaccination rate (156M) and an even lower cost of $25 per vaccine, the total is still $3,900,000,000 ($3.9B).

Of course the $1B it takes to bring a vaccine to market does not include the costs to produce, distribute, and market the vaccine, so it isn't as if there will be billions in profit the first year, but the flip side of this equation is that we are only factoring in the population of the US.  Chances are once the vaccine was available it could be submitted for approval in numerous other nations with the potential to sell hundreds of millions of doses to those nations.

The moral of this story is, there would be a lot of money to be made from a one-time flu vaccine, yet to date we haven't seen anything available.  Since antivaxxers seem to feel vaccine manufacturers are only interested in profits, how can they explain that not a single manufacturer has unleashed such a vaccine on the public?  It shouldn't matter if the vaccine is effective or not, because as any good antivaxxer will tell you vaccines don't actually work (and yes I'm being sarcastic).  Antivaxxers are even willing to claim publicly that the polio vaccine and the smallpox vaccine did nothing to prevent those diseases (suggesting the diseases just magically disappeared on their own apparently), and they feel that vaccines are generally ineffective.

These same antivaxxers will tell you that the MMR vaccine does far more harm that good and that there is no evidence that viruses like the Measles have been controlled by the vaccine in any way.  They will also claim that the HPV vaccines don't work at all and that it is merely a method for the manufacturers to collect millions upon millions from insurance companies and the unsuspecting public.

You see this is one of those situations where antivaxxers want to have it both ways.  One one hand they claim vaccine manufacturers are simply in it for the money and that the vaccines themselves don't actually work.  On the other hand, they can't explain why the market hasn't delivered something like a one-time flu vaccine which would quite obviously be a gigantic windfall for the pharmaceutical companies.

So which is it antivaxxers?

It would seem to be the fact we don't have a one-time vaccine for the flu only proves that the system works.  We have clinical trials and data which shows us the effectiveness of vaccines, and if a vaccine is found to be ineffective it wouldn't be approved.  We have a system of checks and balances in place to ensure the public is protected and that vaccines are not only effective but that they are safe.  We have a system which rewards responsibility, and one which puts the safety and health of the public as the priority far head of profit.

We aren't talking about a nutritional supplement or a vitamin that can be sold by anyone trying to make a buck.  Vaccines are subjected to rigorous safety and effectiveness testing which can take years to complete and which requires verifiable proof of efficacy before that vaccine is ever approved for use.  Can we say the same thing about the various supplements and pills sold on antivaxxer websites?

Sort of makes you wonder what type of clinical trial or testing was done on something like the miracle "brain repair" pills sold by a well known anti-vaxxer.  I think we all know the answer, and it rhymes with none.

If vaccines were really all about profit and if the health of the public was an afterthought as so many antivaxxers have suggested, I have no doubt we would have a half dozen one-time flu vaccines on the market this very moment.  Yet we don't - and I've yet to see an antivaxxer who can explain this without contradicting themselves.


  1. Wow! I have never read such blatant bullshit in my entire life. You are killing innocent people with these blatant lies. You sold your soul for money and I feel sorry for you.

    1. Dan, first of all you know nothing about me or my sources of income, so that shill gambit doesn't fly.

      Second, you posted a comment one day before this one where you claimed you are "interested in learning the data from both sides of the debate". Clearly you were lying and have no interest in learning anything. Instead you are just interested in spewing insults and trolling. You have added nothing of value to the discussion.


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