Low-priced vaccines come at a great cost

A recently published study by the economist David Ridley and other Duke University researchers found that vaccines with lower prices were more likely to be in short supply than those with higher prices. (Jay Daniel Wright/The New York Times) -- NO SALES; FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY WITH VACCINE-PRICES BY AUSTIN FRAKT FOR JUNE 28, 2016. ALL OTHER USE PROHIBITED.

A $30,000 price tag for cancer drug therapy that extends life only a few weeks is understandably alarming. But a $2,000 price tag for all childhood vaccines — credited with eradicating smallpox, preventing a million or more cases of other diseases and averting thousands of deaths each year — is a bargain. In fact, the price of childhood vaccines may be too low for our own good because it contributes to shortages.

Vaccine shortages have popped up in the United States many times over the past 50 years. In 2001, eight of 11 recommended childhood vaccines were unavailable or in short supply. A recently published study by the economist David Ridley and other Duke University researchers found that between 2004 and 2014, an average of nearly three out of 22 vaccines were in short supply in the U.S. In 2007, one-third of vaccines were. (Looking globally, limited vaccine supplies hampered the response to a recent yellow fever outbreak that began in Angola and spread elsewhere.)

Vaccine prices have gone up over the years, in large part because of newer vaccines that command higher prices. The number of recommended vaccine doses has also increased, which pushes up the overall cost of full vaccination.