Richard H. Hughes, IV, Member of the Firm in the Health Care & Life Sciences practice, in the firm’s Washington, DC, office, authored an article in Medical Economics, titled “The Vaccine Pricing Assault That Threatens Public Health.”

Following is an excerpt:

The old Benjamin Franklin adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is increasingly forgotten. In spite of a global pandemic and the fragility of both the vaccines marketplace and vaccine confidence, some policymakers seem content to lose sustained investment in vaccine development.

The intensity of biopharmaceutical pricing scrutiny in the United States has reached a major inflection point, both for medicines used to treat disease and for vaccines that play an important role in preventing and mitigating disease and lowering overall health care and societal costs.

On March 19, a dozen members of Congress led by Sen. Bernie Sanders sent a letter to President Joe Biden, advocating for his Administration to push for more equitable access to vaccines, tests and drugs in a future pandemic as the United States continues negotiations in the World Health Organization Pandemic Accord. Among the points raised were that “[p]harmaceutical companies should not be allowed to charge outrageous prices for products developed with taxpayer dollars.”

The exaggerated rhetoric will potentially have consequences for vaccine innovation and, ultimately, public health. That is, undermining vaccine innovation and manufacturer market participation poses a risk that, when the next pandemic comes, we will not see speed in vaccine development and production. We may even live unnecessarily with endemic disease threats of the present and future, contributing to higher health care costs, economic losses and detrimental societal impacts.

An analysis two decades ago outlines the various market forces that have contributed to the fragility of the vaccines marketplace – the significant costs of making vaccines, the inability to command higher prices and an adequate return on investment, lack of adequate demand as a result of ever-increasing public complacency and hesitancy. Those factors, coupled with liability concerns, led to a decline over half a century in the number of vaccine manufacturers, dwindling from 26 in 1967, to 17 in 1980, to five in 2004. In 1996, the United States was supplied childhood vaccines by eight firms. That number dwindled to four by 2002.

Placing downward pricing pressure on an already fragile vaccines marketplace poses serious risks to the sustained investment in innovative new vaccines to prevent endemic diseases and future pandemic threats.

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