The truth: Why pediatricians promote vaccines

I have heard that big drug companies want to push their products by “buying off” doctors to promote their vaccines. Is this true?

The short answer is NO.

Before getting into the details, here is some background.

Vaccines work and save lives. In the past 50 years, millions of lives have been saved from horrible infectious diseases due to vaccinations. It is hard to overstate that millions and not hundreds or thousands of lives have been saved. Doctors care about their patients’ lives and recommend these vaccines to protect from 16 infections that would have had horrible effects on children if they were not vaccinated. If you look at the numbers before and after vaccinations from Boston University School of Public Health for each infectious disease, you will immediately recognize the efficacy.

Vaccines are safe. Before a vaccine is approved, the evidence for its safety and efficacy is reviewed by the Federal Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians. The World Health Organization also reviews the evidence and works with national agencies throughout the globe to assure vaccine safety and has established an independent advisory body to review vaccine safety. It is impossible that all these US federal agencies, US doctors’ groups, and international organizations have all colluded with drug companies to over-ride safety concerns in order to push products.

Serious side effects are extremely rare. In general, vaccines may have minor side effects that pale in comparison to the infectious disease they protect from. Serious side effects do occur but are so rare compared to the minor side-effects that serious infections are more likely than having a serious side effect if you decide not to receive vaccinations. This is how the math works. It is the same kind of math the makes it unreasonable to decide not to wear a seat belt because of a possible injury from the belt.

Now let us talk about the profit pushing claims. Here are some facts to consider:

Vaccines are not cash cows for doctors. Pediatricians often lose money on vaccines. Some physicians have stopped stocking vaccines for this reason, but most continue to provide vaccinations despite losing money or barely breaking even because they care about their patients’ lives. I know personally from my daily work as a pediatrician that vaccines are costly to a pediatric practice and do not turn a significant profit. 

Vaccines are not block busters. Drug companies today make about 2 percent of their profits from vaccines. For many years, revenue from vaccines was basically a rounding error (about 1 percent) in the drug companies’ profit analysis. For many reasons, some drug companies have gotten out of the vaccine business. In 1967, there were 26 vaccine manufacturers. Today, the number stands at 10 with only 4 major companies. As the number of manufacturers decreased, we have experienced vaccine shortages in the past few years.

Yes, drug companies do make a profit on vaccines. However, they make most of their profits elsewhere and there is no evidence that they try to push unsafe or ineffective vaccines. They would make more profit if they stopped making vaccines and sold medical equipment to deal with the resulting rise in infections and serious illnesses.

Primary care pediatricians that administer vaccinations have smaller ties to drug companies. In a recent review of payments to pediatricians, the median total payment was $89 and general pediatricians accounted for only 0.9 percent of the sum of payments from the drug industry to physicians.

In conclusion, vaccines save lives, do not make a lot of profit to drug companies, and sometimes are administered at a loss by pediatricians. There is no evidence to suggest a profit motivation for doctors to administer vaccines. As a pediatrician, the only motivation to recommend and administer vaccinations is to prevent horrible infections.


 

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