If you think you have been hearing a lot about vaccines lately, you are right. Since Pharma's blockbuster pills like Lipitor, Viagra, Seroquel, Zyprexa, Singular, Concerta, Cymbalta and Abilify went off patent, its new profit center is biologics--vaccines and other liquid drugs that have to be injected. These drugs can be priced higher than pills, marketed more aggressively and are less threatened by generic competition.
The global vaccine market amounted to $32.24 billion last year with the pediatric segment accounting for the largest share reports Markets and Markets. The reason is the "rising number of awareness programs to promote vaccination" in children. In fact, the number of recommended childhood vaccines has risen from seven when Baby Boomers grew up to as many as 30 vaccines today before children are six. Blue Cross Blue Shield actually gives doctors bonuses for the vaccines they give patients.
Pfizer alone made $6.245 billion on vaccines in 2015 --as much as United Airlines--and its apparent profiteering moved Doctors Without Borders to decline its offer of a million free vaccines. Why? Such Pharma "discounts" are widely seen as a PR ruse to appear philanthropic while costs are simply shifted to other payers and Pharma still gets its high price. I recently reported on the same stunt with EpiPen.
Pharma's expensive new biologic drugs also make a huge profit. Almost ten years ago I reported on the shady launch of Humira and its concerning links to psoriasis, herpes, cancer and worse. Today it is the best selling drug in the U.S. generating $14 billion in sales and costing consumers, insurers, employers or taxpayers $50,000 or more a year per patient. Enbrel and Remicide, similar drugs to Humira, were also best sellers last year. Pharma has also rolled out biologics that it hopes will replace its lucrative statin franchise which has gone off patent. The new cholesterol drugs, called PCSK9 inhibitors, cost approximately $14,350 per year per patient.
Safety Questions Trail the Vaccine Industry
Because vaccines are Pharma's new profit center, they are aggressively marketed, often in collaboration with governments and NGOs, as life-saving medicines that no thinking parent or person should refuse. Reporters and citizens who raise legitimate safety questions are tarred as "anti-science." Yet the existence of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) reveals there is a sordid underbelly to vaccine safety often omitted in Pharma's aggressive marketing.
While the Department of Justice says the NVICP was "designed to encourage childhood vaccination by providing a streamlined system for compensation in where an injury results from vaccination," it actually grew out of drug companies "threatening to stop producing the DPT vaccine (which prevents diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus) if Congress did not prevent the public from suing for largely unfounded damages," reported Vocativ. Large jury awards had been given to some plaintiffs who sued DPT vaccine makers and the companies responding to the settlements by ceasing to produce vaccines. "To protect the nation's supply, lawmakers shielded companies from jury verdicts, shifting liability for injuries to the U.S. government," keeping vaccines widely available, and profitable reported Fox. Through a 75-cent tax on each vaccine, a $3.5 billion fund exists that can compensate plaintiffs found to be injured for future care and lost wages.