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

Phillips, L. (2014). New York Times April 5, 2014 (Even Small Medical Advances Can Mean Big Jumps in Bills). Retrieved from

Rosenthal, E. (2014a). Even Small Medical Advances Can Mean Big Jumps in Bills, Report, p. A1. Retrieved from

Rosenthal, E. (2014b). The Price of Prevention: Vaccine Costs Soaring, Correction notice, p. A1. Retrieved from



Views: 76

Tags: blog, phillips, vaccine

Comment by Nell on July 15, 2014 at 6:18am

Good follow-up. The diabetes article contained misconceptions about diabetes and its management. I am not sure what is the problem here, however.
I am not sure that the purpose of journalism is to provide solutions. In my view, it is to inform, factually, so that public citizens can then, if needed, seek out and promote appropriate solutions. I think you know the solution to the vaccine issue. We need affordable health care so that all who need it can partake of it. That was a neutral statement; please don’t mistake the ‘affordable’ term for a political statement. It is a good word when it comes to disease prevention and health care.
I found the following statements about the purpose of journalism interesting, especially the second and third paragraphs. I do not know if this is “the” ultimate source about journalism but I tend to agree with it--so it must be good!
Quote: “The purpose of journalism,” write Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in The Elements of Journalism, “is not defined by technology, nor by journalists or the techniques they employ.” Rather, “the principles and purpose of journalism are defined by something more basic: the function news plays in the lives of people.”
News is that part of communication that keeps us informed of the changing events, issues, and characters in the world outside. Though it may be interesting or even entertaining, the foremost value of news is as a utility to empower the informed.
The purpose of journalism is thus to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. …End quote.

In this case, perhaps parent groups should demand that CDC/other health agencies should be involved in disease prevention to the extent that they insist on reasonable vaccine costs in order to protect our society as a whole from becoming rife with communicable diseases once again.

Thanks for an interesting start to the day.

Comment by rick (aka: #blankieboy) on July 15, 2014 at 7:13am

Nell, I am not for certain this article is Journalism or commentary. Actually my complaint with Ms. Rosenthal is that she wishes to be a reporter, who editorializes. In this case she never explains the good reasons vaccines cost more. So OK journalism also needs to be crowd sourced to be read, all journalists come to that conclusion at some point. Frankly I am not even upset with her over this piece.

Ms McCarthy and I do have a different viewpoint about things. I think anyone who attempts to persuade folks to not use vaccines holds a fundamentally flawed position. Again this note is not about Ms. McCarthy, but yeah I am upset with that.

I suppose if I am upset it is that if the NYT is so concerned with health care costs, this journalist runs these articles every couple of months, why have they yet tired to inform the public about other possible scenarios?

Yes I do believe in a system of managed care and costs. It seems most people disagree with me, if not nationwide then overwhelmingly in my own state. I hope that someone reads my blog and offers a better way of doing delivering health care or suppressing costs. I am upset about the rising prices of vaccines. Absent a more controlled situation price increases are a fundamental by-product of the system we have.

I can accept the system we have, I have trouble hearing complaints then about the cost of that system from whatever source they might come unless those complaints include an idea for a solution.

Thanks for your note, it stimulated my thoughts as well...........rick


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