World Immunization Week is celebrated in the last week of April. This year the theme is “Protected Together, #VaccinesWork”. According to the World Health Organization, “The goal of World Immunization Week 2018 is to urge greater action on immunization around the world, with a particular focus on spotlighting the role that everyone can play in this effort, from donors to individuals”.
However, there is the lingering question in the back of people’s minds of whether all these vaccines are necessary. There is a concern that vaccines are produced and pushed on people so that pharmaceutical companies can make big profits.
According to Paul A. Offit in his article for Medscape.com, “During the past fifty years, the number of pharmaceutical companies making vaccines has decreased dramatically….. Pharmaceutical companies are gradually abandoning vaccines because the research, development, testing, and manufacture of vaccines are expensive and because the market to sell vaccines is much smaller than the market for other drug products……Pharmaceutical companies are businesses, not public health agencies; they are not obligated to make vaccines.”
A study by Tufts University has found that vaccine sales have tripled over the last decade. The vaccine market is now worth nearly $29 billion. However, as much of a money maker as vaccines are, they are also expensive to produce. There are high costs associated with research and development as well as getting past the strict regulatory approval processes. For example, according to the Financial Times, pharma group Sanofi of France invested 1.5 billion Euros in its dengue fever vaccine during 20 years of development. They need to make a return on this investment otherwise there will be no incentive to make similar breakthroughs on other diseases.
According to WHO immunization is estimated to save 2-3 million lives every year. Additionally increasing vaccine coverage in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 could prevent 24 million people from falling into poverty due to health expenses. Therefore, immunization is not only important for health but also for development.
As stated earlier, pharmaceutical companies are businesses with no obligation to make vaccines. All businesses need to return a profit in order to remain operable. The aim will therefore be to find a balance between this profit and the ease of accessibility of these lifesaving vaccines to those who need them.