The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

January 9, 2013

Krohn: Sick days, manufacturing vaccine equal bad business

— You’ve heard the flu sermon more often than you’ve heard about the Korean guy doing the Gangnam dance:

Get a flu shot. Wash your hands. Cover your cough. Stay home when you start getting sick.

The pleas from health officials — who truly want to reduce something that can be deadly — are sincere and well intentioned. Their admonishments are also pretty much useless in accomplishing the goal of significantly reducing the spread of the flu or flu-like illnesses.

That’s not likely to change for two reasons.

The flu vaccine, even when it matches the strain of the year, isn’t all that effective — something that won’t change because flu vaccines are bad business for drug companies.

And as for the more effective approach of people staying home when they are sick, forget it. Sick days are bad business for businesses.

The effectiveness of flu shots has been greatly inflated in the past with claims they are 90 percent effective. A recent comprehensive study, led by former state epidemiologist Michael Osterholm at the University of Minnesota, found the vaccines are only 59 percent effective.

“Today’s flu shot is like an iPhone 1.0,” Osterholm said. “What we need is an iPhone 10.0.”    

But drug companies aren’t much interested in finding new generations of flu vaccines — or any new vaccines really. They’d far rather make drugs. 

Vaccines are used at most several times in a lifetime; drugs are often used every day. Therefore, the market for drugs is much greater than the market for vaccines.

The highest-grossing vaccine has annual sales of about $1 billion. A drug for diabetes or a drug such as Viagra can have sales of $7 billion a year or more.

You do the math.  

Which leaves staying home, eating your chicken noodle soup and watching “The Price is Right” when you’re sick.

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