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Commentary

Commentary: A Booster Shot For Vaccines: New technology could speed development and keep the medicine chest stocked
John Carey, Business Week, 10-25-04

Part of the problem - the global problem haunting vaccine development is that vaccines are a public good that everyone benefits from, even those people who don't ever get vaccinated. For instance, every year the U.S. purchases millions of doses of flu vaccines for people who never receive them and who probably wouldn't get very ill even if they do come down with the flu. The problem is that unless you reach a critical mass of vaccinations, vulnerable groups in the population children, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems will find themselves facing potentially devastating infections from the vast majority of people who might only get a bad cold. Thus what could be a minor nuisance could easily morph into a very costly and lethal epidemic. The combination of government unwillingness to lose money on vaccine production and general public apathy with vaccinations absent a public health crisis means that vaccines are a low priority for pharmaceutical and biotech companies. "Making vaccines is complex work, with lots of investment in manufacturing needed, along with special expertise. Yet weak pricing has left profitability low. That combination has scared many companies away from the market."

The solution is for the government to improve the risk-benefit ratio for industry: provide greater liability protection for the rare vaccine side-effects that can cripple or kill otherwise healthy people, and work to raise prices for vaccine manufacturers by scaling back the governments direct purchase of vaccine stocks. Once the government relaxes its death grip on vaccine prices, manufacturers can be lured back into this critical field.



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