On Sunday, Australia announced a “no jab, no pay” policy where parents will lose over $11,000 of childcare and welfare benefits per year if they refuse to vaccinate their kids. The government estimates about 39,000 children under seven have not received immunizations because their parents are vaccine objectors, despite overwhelming scientific and medical support for vaccines’ effectiveness. Social Service Minister Scott Morrison said it’s not fair for taxpayers to subsidize parents who choose not to immunize, since the public health system has to treat their children when these preventable illnesses strike.
Globally, the vaccine market will have an estimated compound annual growth rate of 10.16% during 2014-2019, according to Medical Market Research Reports. From roughly $33 billion in 2014, it may reach some $57 billion by 2019. A big area of R&D is for vaccines to fight food-borne microbes like E. coli and norovirus. Viruses, bacteria, and protozoa spread through food caused around 582 million cases of intestinal infection and 351,000 deaths in 2010, according to figures that the WHO released on April 2. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $50 million since 2007 to a consortium seeking to develop vaccines against two foodborne bacteria, Shigella and E. coli, and another $64 million will be spent on the program through 2018. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a norovirus vaccine could prevent 1-2.2 million cases of illness in the U.S. each year, and if that vaccine were effective for two years, it could save up to $2.1 billion in treatment costs.
Still, the global growth of vaccines is not always smooth. While small but vocal anti-vaccine movements are the main obstacles in developed countries like the Australia and the U.S., elsewhere bureaucratic red tape is the main hindrance. On April 2, Pfizer announced it was halting its vaccine sales operations in China, effective immediately. Regulators at China’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) failed to renew an import license for Prevenar, Pfizer’s vaccine that protects toddlers against pneumococcal disease that can lead to pneumonia and other infections. Since it is the only company that sells the drug in China, a shortage is now predicted. According to experts and industry insiders cited by the Wall Street Journal, as China’s market for drugs has expanded, the government has grown more stringent in its oversight. However, China’s FDA lacks the manpower to thoroughly review all of these drugs, leading to a backlog for approvals.
Yet the worst of all obstacles is the outright violence against vaccination efforts. In Pakistan, 76 polio vaccination workers have been killed since 2012 by militant groups including the Pakistani Taliban. They regard the vaccination campaigns as a cover for Western espionage and claim the shots sterilize the recipients. Pakistan reported 306 polio cases reported last year, its highest total in 14 years, which accounted for the overwhelming majority of global cases. (Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only other countries that still have polio cases). A huge oral vaccination campaign by the Pakistani government in March reached 33.6 million children, or 79% of the targeted amount. However, about 391,860 children remain untreated, mostly in tribal areas where militants intimidate the population.
That said, the global trend is on the upswing. Vaccine-makers are doing well – for example, Pfizer’s global sales of Prevenar-branded products reached $4.5 billion in 2014, up 12% from 2013. Far more importantly, fewer children are dying from these preventable illnesses each year.