NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Government Policies Cause Vaccine Shortage

May 22, 2002

U.S. health officials have struggled for months with a vaccine shortage that has made 8 of 11 critical shots unavailable to millions of children. Now the shortage has spread to lifesaving vaccines for adults. Critics say it's because government policies treat vaccine makers as a branch of socialized medicine -- to the point many have stopped making vaccines.

  • In 1967 there were 37 vaccine manufacturers and 380 licensed products.
  • By last year there were just 10 producers and 52 products.

Some of this is due to consolidation, but much is the result of an untenable marketplace where vaccine makers can't afford to pay for increasing regulations and frivolous lawsuits, while getting paid little for what the government considers public goods.

  • In October 2000, the FDA levied a $30 million find against Wyeth-Ayerst for manufacturing problems, though the government agency admitted it never found contaminated products - and Wyeth got out of the market for tetanus products, leaving just one manufacturer.
  • Vaccine makers used to be able to perform tests with hundreds of patients, but today need tens of thousands - so the FDA's normal approval process takes 6 or 7 years.
  • The Centers for Disease Control has socialized the market by buying more than half all the vaccines in the country -- and using its buying clout and power over future vaccine recommendations to pay, in many cases, half what the private sector pays.
  • The FDA told manufacturers to remove the preservative thimerosal from products, despite having no evidence it was harmful - thus causing many of today's shortages and giving tort lawyers the cue to sue.

Source: Editorial, "A Needless Vaccine Shortage," Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2002.


Browse more articles on Health Issues