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Duke Economist: Manufacturers Not Motivated To Make Vaccine Surplus

Posted December 9, 2003

— In the 1970s there were 25 vaccine makers. Today, there are only five. Experts say that is powerful evidence that the availability of vaccine has more to do with the bottom line than your health.

At the Wake County Health Department, only a handful of flu vaccine sits in the refrigerator that is typically full. A new shipment is on the way, but it may not last long.

"We had 290 people come in on Friday and we have 300 doses coming in [Tuesday]. So we could use it all up," said Gibbie Harris of the Wake County Health Department.

It is the same situation at most health departments and doctor's offices throughout the country. The source of the shortage: the only two flu vaccine manufacturers did not make enough.

"Every year is a bit of a gamble," Duke University Economist Frank Sloan said.

Sloan says the vaccine shortage points out a larger problem -- that the vaccine industry is an unprofitable business.

The bottom line: manufacturers are not motivated to make a surplus of vaccine.

Sloan said that would be the obvious solution.

"The government could just purchase it and stockpile it," he said.

Sloan says that is not likely to happen, because the vaccine industry would cry government interference.

Experts said the vaccine industry suffers from a poor distribution system and is vulnerable to lawsuits. It also means future vaccine shortages are possible.

This is the eighth time in three years fluvaccine supplies have not met demand, but it is the first time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are calling the epidemic an outbreak.


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