Bill Hobbs points out an article in the Weekly Standard about the relationship between litigation, legislation, and flu shots.
Vaccines are the one area of medicine where trial lawyers are almost completely responsible for the problem. No one can plausibly point a finger at insurance companies, drug companies, or doctors. Lawyers have won the vaccine game so completely that nobody wants to play.
All this is the result of a legal concept called “liability without fault” that emerged from the hothouse atmosphere of the law schools in the 1960s and became the law of the land. Under the old “negligence” regime, you had to prove a product manufacturer had done something wrong in order to hold it liable for damages. Under liability without fault, on the other hand, the manufacturer can be held responsible for harm from its products, whether blameworthy or not. Add to that the jackpot awards that come from pain-and-suffering and punitive damages, and you have a legal climate that no manufacturer wants to risk.
In theory, prices might have been jacked up enough to make vaccine production profitable even with the lawsuit risk, but federal intervention made vaccines a low-margin business. Before 1993, manufacturers sold vaccines to doctors, doctors prescribed them to patients, and there was some markup. Then Congress adopted the Vaccine for Children Act, which made the government a monopoly buyer. The feds now purchase over half of all vaccines at a low fixed price and distribute them to doctors. This has essentially finished off the private market.
Government intervention could drive down the price by making government the sole buyer and at a very low price fixed by the government. But at such a low price the profit would be negligible and few if any vaccine makers would agree to produce the vaccine.
If you’re without a flu shot this year, ask yourself which you’d rather have: flu shots that cost $50 and are plentiful, or a flu shots that cost $20 or even $10 but aren’t available. (emphasis mine)