The price of vaccines!!
You might remember our friend (I use the term loosely) Elisabeth Rosenthal the medical reporter for the New York Times who wrote a rather biased piece about medical technology, (aimed really at diabetes medical technology) a few months ago (Rosenthal, 2014a). The article set off a bit of a fire storm in this community and I for one was disgusted by its implications for diabetics (Phillips, 2014).
Well you can never really stop a good controversy so Ms. Rosenthal has made this a continuing story line for several months. Well in a way that is a misnomer it was her story line before she went after diabetic devices and it has continued. Like I say love it or hate it, controversy makes great copy to get people upset about and comment on.
So in her latest article Ms. Rosenthal takes solid aim at vaccine manufacturers (Rosenthal, 2014b). In her article Ms. Rosenthal details the soaring price of vaccines, often those required by schools, for children. Here are some of the high points:
“Vaccination prices have gone from single digits to sometimes triple digits in the last two decades, creating dilemmas for doctors and their patients as well as straining public health budgets. Once a loss leader for manufacturers, because they are often more expensive to produce than conventional drugs, vaccines now can be very profitable.
Old vaccines have been reformulated with higher costs. New ones have entered the market at once-unthinkable prices. Together, since 1986, they have pushed up the average cost to fully vaccinate a child with private insurance to the age of 18 to $2,192 from $100, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention” (Rosenthal, 2014b).
Here is the thing, I know what she writes is true. The costs of vaccines are skyrocketing and it may be for both selfish and legitimate reasons. So why am I concerned with vaccines? For one, I can remember mom after mom opting out of vaccines for their children because of what I fairly or unfairly call the Jenny McCarthy effect. As you may recall Ms. McCarthy has been on a tear for a few years about not vaccinating children (Hall, 2014). (Note here, I am not holding up BuzzFeed as a creditable source so take those statements for what you will and know that if I were a professor I would tell the kid to get me a legitimate source if he turned this reference in on a paper.)
So the thing is whatever you think of Ms. McCarthy’s rhetoric (in my opinion she is using junk, discredited science) you do have to say one thing, it worked. In my time in schools, I visited with mom after mom who opted out of vaccines on ‘religious grounds’ an exemption that is valid in Indiana so a child can attended school without the required vaccinations. I know different people have different opinions and I accept that even though I disagree with it
But here is the thing, it seems the drug companies have taken the vaccine safety concerns, plus increased payment for vaccines by health insurance companies to significantly increase profit. I am not against profit but vaccines are a public good. Mass vaccinations produce herd immunity. Those moms who refused vaccines often told me they were not worried since everyone is required to get the vaccines their child would be protected. I don’t know if that sounds as silly to any readers of this blog as it was to me, but it was a prevailing thought in the two school districts I served in.
The issue here is that anytime we give folks a reason to not vaccinate we are fundamentally shooting ourselves in the foot. We have way too much to lose by not vaccinating kids. A major disease outbreak of polio, whopping cough, measles, mumps or whatever is dangerous business. We cannot seriously think it ok to rely on the other guy to vaccinate to protect us. The world is no longer a series of protected communities. It is one big stew pot of pathogens and one let loose in Siberia will be in your community in less than two shakes of a donkeys tail (as my mom would warn me before I got in trouble).
Here is the thing about Ms. Rosenthal’s article; it does spotlight a tremendous issue in modern public health. But as I read it, I only find complaint not solutions. Her idea seems to be a constant in her series, new is bad old is good enough. That was what I objected to about her diabetic device article and what I object to here as well. We have for better and worse decided politically to have a capitalist based health care system. I think there were better choices, but my opinion is certainly not shared by most Americans so I can accept that. But given that choice we have a devil to pay and our only way of paying that devil is to find market based ways to lower costs. We have for many reasons, most believe it leads to a better system, decided to pay the price of more expensive health care in America. Given that decision, Ms. Rosenthal needs to stop focusing on what is wrong and instead help us find solutions that will work in this economy. Banging her incessant drum about what is wrong is less than a public service. It is simply gives people an excuse (as if they needed another) to not vaccinate kids and that is a public tragedy.
Hall, E. (2014). 11 Things That Jenny McCarthy Has Said About Vaccines. BuzzFeed. Retrieved from http://www.buzzfeed.com/ellievhall/11-things-that-jenny-mccarthy-has-said-about-vaccines
Phillips, L. (2014). New York Times April 5, 2014 (Even Small Medical Advances Can Mean Big Jumps in Bills). Retrieved from http://www.tudiabetes.org/profiles/blogs/new-york-times-april-5-2014-even-small-medical-advances-can-mean
Rosenthal, E. (2014a). Even Small Medical Advances Can Mean Big Jumps in Bills, Report, p. A1. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.iuk.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgbe&AN=edsgcl.363996916&site=eds-live
Rosenthal, E. (2014b). The Price of Prevention: Vaccine Costs Soaring, Correction notice, p. A1. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.iuk.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgov&AN=edsgcl.373533274&site=eds-live