Thursday, July 3, 2014

New York Times Front Page "Woodshed Session" For Vaccine Makers -- Mostly Pfizer; But Some Merck Too

Some may recall that back in December 2010, on an exclusive basis, we provided much similar analysis, even predicting rapidly rising prices -- as a result of Merck's decision not to resume production of Attenuvax® (Measles Virus Vaccine Live), Mumpsvax® (Mumps Virus Vaccine Live), and Meruvax® II (Rubella Virus Vaccine Live).

Pfizer has taken the Merck crash-course, and amplified its object lesson. By reformulating single old-school vaccines -- into fixed combinations of three or more (and correlatively, grown up in higher efficiency meida environments) -- Pfizer has rendered its (and others') older vaccines obsolete. Actually designed the obsolesence. [There is no evidence that the combos are significantly safer or more effective than the old school singles.]

And Pfizer has engaged in significant pricing "touch-ups". Repeatedly.

So much so that now many government payers cannot afford to fully reimburse the combo-vaccines' cost -- to the providers of it. And still parents of limited means are not allowed to enroll their children this fall without them. That is a national health disgrace -- in the richest nation on Earth. Pfizer's vaccine combos are not that much more expensive to produce. This is simply a monopolists' standard state of affairs. I'll hush now -- do read the New York Times on it all -- but here's a bit:

. . . .[Fixed combinaiton vaccine] 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. Here in San Antonio and elsewhere, some doctors have stopped offering immunizations because they say they cannot afford to buy these potentially lifesaving preventive treatments that insurers often reimburse poorly, sometimes even at a loss. . . .

Childhood immunizations are so vital to public health that the Affordable Care Act mandates their coverage at no out-of-pocket cost and they are generally required for school entry. Once a loss leader for manufacturers, because they are often more expensive to produce than conventional drugs, vaccines now can be very profitable. . . .

I might note that Pfizer has been more magnanimous and charitable with vaccines in Africa, than at home.

These are challenging times, indeed -- and pharma should be allowed to reap a fair profit. But it does seem a tad irresponsible and unpatriotic -- to leave the neediest American families holding the bag -- just so that Pfizer can book another $5 billion in combo vaccine sales this fall. Just a touch. Unpatriotic. Ponder that as you watch your fireworks, tomorrow. Be excellent to one another.

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