Childhood Vaccinations: It's Not About Manufacturer Profit

FEBRUARY 07, 2017
Jeannette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP

Few health care innovations compare to vaccines in terms of reduced morbidity and mortality.  Smallpox has been eradicated, polio is exceedingly rare, and a slew of once common childhood ailments seem more mythological than visceral. The post-vaccine era boasts an increase in life expectancy of between 15 and 25 years. These gains are attributed to reductions in mortality in early life. 
 
Due to vaccinations’ robust effectiveness, diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, etc. have virtually disappeared from the collective conscious. It should come as no surprise that we are witnessing a decline in vaccination rates, given the current discussion regarding elevating costs and adverse effects either real or perceived. 
 
The majority of studies that look at vaccinations focus on cost analysis and adverse events.  These studies do little to demonstrate the true value of vaccinations to the public. Recently, an article published in the American Journal of Managed Care set out to determine the real social value of guideline-recommended vaccines in children born during 2009. 
 
They demonstrated that vaccinations saved 1.2 million Quality Adjusted Life Years in babies born in 2009. The researchers noted this is equivalent to $184 billion in social value, or $45,000 per child.
 
Manufacturers accrued 2% of total value in the form of gross profits. Society as a whole retained the other 98%. This is a steep differential, compared to the social value retained by manufacturers of HIV, leukemia, and heart disease treatments. In those conditions, manufacturers’ profits are between 5% and 24% of total value. 
 
Manufacturers’ small share of value may facilitate access to vaccinations in the short term. However, it also produces a weak incentive to continue to innovate in this space. 
 
For those who believe profit-making motivates vaccine development, these findings may help alleviate undue anxiety. 
 
Reference
 
Philipson TJ, Thornton Snider J, Chit A, et al. The social value of childhood vaccination in the United States. Am J Manag Care. 2017;23(1):41-47.
 

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