Vaccine Myths, Round Two
Filed under: Parents' Pages, Vaccine Myths, Vaccine Science, Vaccine/Disease Analysis
Introduction: A while back, we explored some common anti-vax myths. Because in the great vaccine debates, the myths tend to outnumber the facts, we’ve decided to begin a multipart series dispelling some of the mythologies people argue over which preclude productive discussions over real issues. Below, you will find the facts behind two more common vaccine myths: herd immunity, and whether or not vaccines are profitable to pharmaceutical companies.
Myth: herd immunity isn’t real, and all the vaccine preventable diseases were declining in incidence prevaccine
Reality: vaccine induced herd immunity is a real phenomenon, and the incidences of the “diseases of childhood” (measles and mumps, for example) averaged out to be constant in the prevaccine era.
Here’s a chart showing the incidence of measles from 1912 till 1960.
Although the “death rate per cases” dropped an amazing amount, the same number of cases were happening per year on average.
Now let’s see what happened to the number of cases after the vaccine was introduced:
While some vaccines don’t create herd immunity, and while for other vaccines, herd immunity can be problematic , herd immunity is very much a real phenomenon. And while the probability of being killed by diseases like measles dropped a lot between 1900 and 1950, the actual yearly incidence remained constant over time.
Myth: Vaccines aren’t money makers for drug companies.
Reality: As spoken by Tom Broker about Gardasil and Merck (see page 19 of pdf)
“From a purely business point of view, they’ve been facing some real interesting challenges over the Vioxx issue and they are looking at this as the foundation and the savior of the company. Believe me, they have a huge stake in this, just as we all do.”
How profitable are vaccines? Prevnar did very well for Wyeth:
… Prevnar, which had $2.7 billion in sales last year. Prevnar is Wyeth’s No. 2 product by revenue, behind antidepressant Effexor.
Some business press projections on the potential in the vaccine market:
Gardasil sales totaled $365 million in the first quarter of 2007, helping Merck reach nearly $1 billion in total vaccine sales for the quarter, more than triple vaccine sales from a year earlier. Analyst projections have ranged up to $4 billion in annual sales for Gardasil, assuming the government mandates widespread vaccinations for girls.
Merck launched two other vaccines in 2006 – Zostavax, for the prevention of shingles, and Rotateq, for the prevention of a rotavirus that causes diarrhea in infants. Les Funtleyder, analyst for Miller Tabak, estimates that these vaccines could reach hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales.
“Merck showed that you can make quite a bit of money with vaccines, and I think that got a lot of people’s attention,” said Funtleyder.
If vaccines have the potential to offer huge profits to pharmaceutical companies–just like other blockbuster drugs–Lipitor or Vioxx are good examples, I think we can reasonably assume that the temptation to publish ghostwritten studies, suppress unwelcome results and use Key Opinion Leaders to subtly sell product is there with vaccines, too. And vaccines offer two additional benefits, available for no other drugs: mandates and immunity from lawsuits (in the US). Who wouldn’t be tempted by a package involving a guaranteed market, and tort immunity?
There was a period, quite a long time ago now, when vaccines were not profitable. But time past is not time present. This myth is long past its sell-by date.