Vaccines Cost an Absolute God-Almighty Fortune

While everyone was busy with Facebook fights over the safety of childhood vaccines (GET IT TOGETHER, AMERICA), they've become vastly more expensive. Costs have leapt so high many doctors are struggling to offer them, leaving some parents scrambling for someone to perform this most basic of preventative measures.

The Times breaks it down as part of their infuriating "Paying Till It Hurts" series:

Old vaccines have been reformulated with higher costs. New ones have entered the market at once-unthinkable prices. Together, since 1986, they have pushed up the average cost to fully vaccinate a child with private insurance to the age of 18 to $2,192 from $100, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even with deep discounts, the costs for the federal government, which buys half of all vaccines for the nation's children, have increased 15-fold during that period.

The Times specifically calls out pneumococcal-bacteria-battling Prevnar, which costs $136 per dose. Kids entering school have to get four doses each.

Now, patients don't pay that cost. But it's creating a major problem for doctors, especially small family practitioners, who buy the vaccines upfront and wait for insurance reimbursements that don't always cover their costs. Which means fewer doctors willing to fool with it, sending some parents elsewhere, like clinics where insured patients have to pay upfront and submit reimbursements themselves. (The Times cites a survey suggesting a third of family practitioners are considering jettisoning vaccines entirely.)

One of the most fascinating segments of the articles peeks at how one pediatrician buys vaccines. Basically, she shops for tetanus shots like the rest of us cruise Kayak for discount flights to Fort Lauderdale:

Online, there are back-to-school sales, closeout sales on last year's models and discounts for early booking. Dr. Irvin buys vaccines for polio, whooping cough, tetanus and hemophilus meningitis from Sanofi-Pasteur on a site called the Vaccine Shoppe. "I feel like I'm going to a boutique," she commented while completing a recent purchase.

That's... terrifying?

Sure, vaccines have become more complicated to manufacture and test, and of course pharmaceutical companies can get away with charging whatever they want for something that might save a child's life. But as former head of the C.D.C.'s immunization Dr. Alan Hinman put it to the Times: "A more difficult question is, after the research and development costs are recouped, why don't prices come down?" (I'm gonna guess $$$$$$$$.)

Photo via AP Images.