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Event Governance, Health Civil Justice, Pharmaceuticals

Solving the Vaccine Shortage: Market Solutions or Government Intervention?

Monday July 2002

Robert Goldberg, Ph.D.: In a recent article, "Is There a Future for Vaccines?" that I wrote for a new journal, I talked about the poor economics of vaccine research and development, poor because of policy decisions that have turned vaccines into commodities.

Nearly a decade ago, a number of us participated in a similar conference at the American Enterprise Institute, focusing on the Clinton Administration's Vaccines for Children Program. We discussed the impact federalizing nearly 70 percent of the vaccine market would have on the development of new vaccines, and how it would affect the availability of the pediatric vaccines recommended back then. The fact is, we raised the concern that shortages were a potential byproduct and that the Clinton plan was likely to hinder development of new vaccines in the future.

Here we are just a few years later and we are down to four vaccine manufacturers. As demand for vaccines has gone up, the number of suppliers has gone down. We have had product shortages, and we are selling some pediatric vaccines at 15 cents a dose. At the same time, the cost of manufacturing and the cost of compliance with regulation have both gone up.

We have unbelievable technology for vaccine development. Thanks to genomics, we have entered what should be a golden era. At the same time, the ability to produce vaccines in mass quantities has been thrown into question, because we have shunted the best technology into a brackish backwater of commodity production.

To solve problems of ensuring vaccine supply, some have proposed that government get into the business of producing not only the current crop of vaccines, but new vaccines yet to enter the marketplace. This will not work; it will merely compound the problems we already face.

What are the choices as we move into an era of vaccine technology that can dramatically improve the public health at a fraction of the cost of what we spend on potentially preventable diseases today? The distinguished panelists whose presentations are contained herein present compelling arguments why a market-focused government vaccine policy is the best approach to solving our vaccine shortage and improving public health.