More antivax lies: shots and profits

By Phil Plait | September 16, 2009 2:06 pm

The people who are so rabidly against vaccinations don’t have any real evidence to back up their claims, so sometimes they have to make stuff up out of thin air. One common claim is that doctors are raking in the cash for vaccinations, so you shouldn’t trust them.

Regular readers know that’s just another antivax lie, since doctors would make far more money letting epidemics take their course. But now there’s even more evidence showing antivaxxers are full of it: some doctors are not prescribing vaccinations because insurance companies won’t reimburse the doctors enough for giving them. In other words, doctors are losing money giving vaccinations.

That sucks, and just goes to show that health care needs a major overhaul in this country. But that’s not my point. The real lesson here is that if something is said by an antivaxxer, chances are it’s exactly wrong. Do your research before listening to them. You’ll almost certainly find you’ll need to take what they say with a pinch — if not a metric ton — of salt.

Tip o’ needle to Robert Estes.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience

Comments (37)

  1. PeteC

    And let me guess…. turn up a few years later with Polio/Typhoid/Tetanus/alloftheothers and you’ll get “You weren’t vaccinated? Sorry, that’s a pre-existing condition then.”

    Here’s a suggestion: pass a law requiring congressmen and senators to get their health insurance the normal way – and to prevent favouritism and “he’s a senator, give him the best” problems, make it have to be done via an office that anonymises them. When a group of older men and women, most of whom have had some medical issue or other, have to go and get their own insurance without the perks of high office, just look how fast things get changed.

    And oh yes, the anti-vax people lie. No surprise there; so do most believers in woo, especially those who “just happen” to have a book about this, or maybe a herbal remedy to sell you…

  2. And of course, no one who argues against vaccines has any money to make. The Geiers certainly do all of their work for free, right? And Wakefield, et al. at Thoughtful House. Dr. Sears and Dr. Gordon don’t charge anything, either, right? And Jenny McCarthy and David Kirby have no books to sell.


    Good to see the media showing bits of reality. Just heard Dr. Rachie last night talking about the situation in Australia and how lucky they’ve been with the mainstream media. If only we can get more public media exposure that shows how wrong antivaxers are.

    I’ve added a link to that article on my site. Thanks for the heads up!

  3. terryp

    that had better be a metric ton of metaphorical salt, phil. >:
    we’ve already got a sodium addiction on this continent, we don’t need to make it worse.

  4. Adam M.

    Those kooky antivaxers. What will they think of next?

    I really wish we could get some real doctors and real skeptics and such on CNN and other news outlets with the real facts. Australia has had some really good luck with this.


    Phil Plait: “… antivaxxers are full of it…”

    Phil, I wish you would not mince your words and just tell it like it is already!

  6. some doctors are not prescribing vaccinations because insurance companies won’t reimburse the doctors enough for giving them.

    Not that I in any way support the anti-vaccine stance, but doesn’t that statement actually support the argument that doctors only vaccinate because it’s profitable? I mean, if they’ll stop vaccinating because they “don’t get paid enough”, it makes it seem like money really is the motivator.

    I think a much more important point is that profit is a non-sequitur when talking about effectiveness — profitable treatments aren’t any less effective because they’re profitable. Put another way, even if doctors’ offices are motivated to vaccinate because it’s profitable, that only means that our medical system’s incentives are properly aligned with the overwhelming evidence that vaccination effectively prevents the diseases it is designed to prevent.

    It is a good thing when financial reward is tied to desirable behavior. When it’s not, we call that a “counter-incentive” and try to fix it.

  7. NewEnglandBob

    Keep it up Phil. It needs to said. Over and over. The ant-vaxers need to be routed out.

  8. @Darren

    The article does not support the antivax argument. It points out how doctors can lose money on vaccines. The end result is that lack of full reimbursement jeopardizes their ability to provide other services or even keep their practice open.

    Now, if the article said they were not offering vaccines because the are only getting reimbursed for the amount they spend, then it would support the antivax argument, but only barely.

  9. Sir Eccles

    The other lie is that Pharma somehow makes huge profits by making these vaccines. Has anyone got solid data on the profit margins for the manufacturers?

  10. Rob

    Its been recently announced that in the United Kingdom, come autumn/winter, Doctors here will be getting paid about £5 for every tamiflu injection they give.

  11. Speaker2a

    The problem isn’t that the doctors aren’t getting reimbursed enough from the insurance companies but that there are laws preventing them from charging the difference. I don’t believe that preventative care should be covered 100% by insurance.

  12. Savino

    I am from Brazil, and we have here a regular campaign (twice a year or more) in radio/TV/Internet promoting the vaccination. It is, of course, free! The goverment pay it for the people.

    That said, let me ask somethig for you north americans.

    Do you need to pay for every shot that you (or your kids) take? Its expensive (in case of a positive answer)?

  13. James

    @ Sir Eccles

    In my research I have found that when a vaccine makes a billion in annual revenue that’s exceptional. When a vaccine hits two billion annually, people lose their minds!!! But let’s keep things in perspective. The statin lipitor makes twelve billion annually, that’s a billion dollars A MONTH. So while it’s true their is profit to be had, it in no way comes even close to phamaceuticals.

  14. Keith

    @Savino: As far as I know, the general answer is yes, most times parents in the U.S. have to pay for the shots their children receive. You might occasionally see some sort of free vaccination program.

    I’m glad Brazil is more proactive about vaccinations and informing the public of their benefits. :)

  15. Zyggy

    I like PeteC’s (#1) suggestion.

    Nothing would get our healthcare issues resolved faster than having the lawmakers suffer through what most of the rest of us are experiencing.

    To paraphrase a popular idiom: ….walk a mile in the other man’s shoes…

    P.S. @ Savino: Generally yes, the parents must pay for vaccinations of any type, and yes it can be quite expensive. I personally don’t have any children, but my cats’ vaccinations were well over $100 for each animal….the first visit. After which there are “booster” vaccinations to consider.

  16. I'd rather be fishin'

    Savino, in Canada (at least in the province where I live), vaccacinations are free for children. My employer pays for the flu vaccine for its staff, not out of the goodness of its corporate heart, but because it would be very expensive if many staff stayed home due to sickness.

  17. Christina Viering

    I think they should be provided for the public.

  18. Travis

    Ever since we closed down our only public hospital so local politicians could fullfill election promises of massive tax cuts we never have enough flu shots to go around in my community. Every year loads of the elderly and children get turned away when they run out. Consequently I never get one as it just seems selfish for a healthy young male to get one when people who really need it can’t. Hopefully we can get things straightened out eventually.

  19. Lisa

    Savino, yes we do have to pay for each injection even the boosters. My insurance does not cover well child visits. Each injection is $50-$80 and most of the time they get 2-4 injections. So it is very expensive, but worth it.

  20. Bruce

    So an antivaxxer says that doctors are withholding vaccinations because insurance companies won’t reimburse them. That’s your basis for saying we need a major healthcare overhaul. Right after you said the antivaxxer is exactly wrong. I guess what you really mean is that our healthcare system is fine and ObamaCare is nothing but an attempt at socializing even more of our country.

    Phil, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  21. EmaNymton

    Wow, Bruce, could you really be any more idiotic?

  22. Svlad Cjelli

    @ Bruce

    No, that particular claim was NOT by anti-vax sources. It CONTRADICTS anti-vax claims. That’s the point.

  23. Stargazer

    The swineflu vaccine will be given for free in Sweden, and I will get my shot as soon as I can.

  24. Stargazer

    Also, healthcare workers wont make more money by giving more people vaccinations, unless they have to work overtime to vaccinate as many as possible. The vaccine is already paid for by the government.

  25. Lawrence

    People complain about the high cost of health care (and don’t bother to get their flu shots), but don’t realize the billions of dollars that are lost because of people missing work because of the flu! This doesn’t even include the money spent to treat people who get the flu – this whole situation goes far beyond the number of people who die each year from flu-related complication (and the flu itself).

    That’s another reason to get the flu shot – help the economy by not getting sick!

  26. John

    I’m a glaxo shareholder.
    I profit greatly when you chumps get vaccinated.
    Keep up the good work.

  27. Erwin Blonk

    “One common claim is that doctors are raking in the cash for vaccinations, so you shouldn’t trust them”

    Whether that is true or not, let this fly in the face of the alternative minded:
    – Homeopaths earn cash selling homeopathy: can’t trust them.
    – Psychics earn money doing, eh, something (talking to death people, or so I’ve heard): can’t trust them.
    …and the list goes on. Let’s all avoid getting anything (products, services) from anyone who is making a living off of it.

  28. MadScientist

    That’s funny; I’ve known a lot of physicians who’ve spent a lot of their own money vaccinating kids and I’ve gone out with a few of them to the middle of nowhere and helped with sticking the kids with those needles (we used to have contests to see who could stick the most kids in an hour). The only people making money (and not much per dose at that) were the drug companies that supplied the vaccines.

    I don’t know how a doctor can not make money vaccinating kids. If you know what you’re doing it takes less than a minute to prep the kid, stick ’em, and send them off howling. If you get $5 for that, you can still make up to $300 an hour. If you decide you’ll see kids whenever it’s convenient for their parents and spend 20 minutes yapping on top of that, that’s simply time wasted. Seriously, when I used to volunteer for vax campaigns 20 years ago, my buddies and I would each get through at least 500 kids in a 10 hour period and that’s with toilet breaks and lunch. I think any physician who wouldn’t give vaccines is in the wrong business.

  29. Thorne

    I get so tired of hearing people complain about companies making too much money. What they’re really complaining about is that they won’t have enough left over to buy that new ultra-wide screen plasma TV that they saw at the mall if they actually have to pay for their shots!

    Face it, people. Companies are in business to make money! If you don’t like the price, don’t buy the product. It’s that simple. When you’re willing to put in your 40+ hours a week for nothing more than three meals a day and a roof over your head you can complain. Anything more than that and you’re making too much profit.

  30. Savino

    Thanks for the answers Lisa, Zyggy and I Rather be Fishing.

    And it´s really impressive to me that the US doesn’t have a basic health care! I mean, vaccination for kids at least should be free!

    Here in Brazil we have to pay too, but, only in special cases. If I wanna take a flu vaccine (I´m 30 years old) I have to pay about 10 bucks, but, if you are older than 65, it´s free.

    Well, I let here my best wishes for all you americans and my hope that this time you can have a real health care program.

  31. @MadScientist

    I don’t know how a doctor can not make money vaccinating kids. If you know what you’re doing it takes less than a minute to prep the kid, stick ‘em, and send them off howling. If you get $5 for that, you can still make up to $300 an hour.

    You’re forgetting to figure in the cost of purchasing those vaccines to give to the kids. If you receive $5 for immunizing someone, and the vaccine costs, say, $80, you’re not exactly raking in the dough. Even if you add into that a $15 co-pay and $60 reimbursement from insurance, you’re just breaking even.

  32. Jaddy

    We could spread a counter-conspiracy theory: The anti-vax movement is silently sponsored by doctors, pharmaceutical companies and the like. Fewer people are immunized, more endemic plagues, more $$$ to earn – and all with a white vest: “We told you before [publicly]” :)

  33. Of course they are rabidly against them, since they didn’t take their rabies vaccinations.

  34. gaiainc

    There’s more to the cost of the vaccine than the vaccine itself. There’s the cost of the needle, syringe, alcohol pad, cotton ball, bandage, and gloves needed to give the vaccine. Each is nominal, but over time does add-up. There is also the cost of storing the vaccines themselves. Most have to be refridgerated and some have to be keep frozen. That means keeping a dedicated fridge and freezer where you can’t store anything else in there except meds. You also have to monitor the temperature of the fridge and freezer because if they go out of range, you potentially have to toss all the vaccines because they are no good and you’d have to order more. In fact, my clinic has had to do this more than once, to the tune of several thousands dollars. Thus we spent even more money on a sophisticated monitoring system to try and prevent future events.

    And really, if pharmaceutical companies made so much money on vaccines, then why is it only one or two companies make the vaccines? I have about 4-5 different manufacturers of metformin or lisinopril (these are generic medications on the $4 list at Wal-mart/Target/etc). I don’t have the same variety with vaccines. Earlier this year there was a shortage of the Hib vaccine because one of the manufacturers screwed up. I’ve seen shortages of the Prevnar vaccine. The only time I’ve seen a shortage of a pharmaceutical was a certain strength of oxycodone and that got resolved within a month. The Hib vaccine shortage took MONTHS to resolve. If vaccines were so damn profitable, why aren’t more companies making them?

    Idjit anti-vaxx, pro-disease twats…

  35. David

    Hi all, I am slightly confused here. I agree with vaccines BUT not the flu vaccine.

    Here is what I went through.

    I used to get the yearly flu vaccine and year after year I got two major flu illnesses (took months to get well) and four to five minor upper respiratory track issues.

    The year I missed the flu vaccine (that was 25 years ago) , I had only one major flu/cold issue. Since then I have not taken the flu shot and have been healthy as a horse. Aside from getting sick only every other year or so and nothing more annoying then a sinus infection.

    So here is my confusion, am I a fluke (interesting, a pun {flu}ke 😛 )? I work in a drug store where I interact with people that are sick from one form of infection or another.

    Also can the seasonal flu shot be combined with the H1N1 vaccine? Please forgive my limited field of knowledge. But if you get one shot then the other shortly afterward how would your body be able to produce the proper “fighters”? It would seem to me that it might confuse your body when the virus shows up.

    One last thing I am confused about. Just how long does it take for an average person to be immunized after getting the flu shot?

  36. David

    Okay this is getting worrisome.

    The Govt of Ontario (CANADA) has indicated that it wants to do the H1N1 vaccine first followed by the regular flu vaccine a few weeks later. This was based on a “as of yet/to be scrutinized” published report that says people that had the flu vaccine last year were twice as likely to catch the H1N1 then someone who was not vaccinated.

    If this is even remotely true then a review of flu vaccinations are in order. It is interesting to note that the issues are with the seasonal vaccines and not with immunization boosters.

    I am leaning more towards anti-vacs for certain things now. It stands to reason that if your body is geared towards responding to one strain of virus, then it cannot possible be prepared to fight another strain. I feel that having both administered even weeks apart would still confuse the body and actually lower it’s ability to fight.

    I for one am not getting vaccinated (as indicated above, my body’s track record speaks for itself) again this winter.

    Hmmm, final thoughts for the night. I wonder if a stress filled day, sedentary lifestyle and over use of antibiotics contributes to being sick quicker with longer recovery times…

    Another rant ending, goodnight.


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