Should government be MORE involved or less involved in the flu shots?

The Wrong Diagnosis

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.

Hobbs writes

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)


  1. Government should’t be involded at all, not their place. Unless it responding to a chem/bioweapon the government isn’t responsible for health care or vaccines.

  2. Government shouldn’t be involved in health care or vaccines? I almost don’t know how to respond to that. So it was bad public policy that smallpox, polio, measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough were all but irradicated in the U.S.? Those were elliminated through government sponsored and implemented vaccination programs. You clearly must believe Medicaid is bad public policy as well. Hey, if poor people really want health care for their kids, they should get better jobs. I’d hate to see what you say about FDA, NIH, CDC and other government agencies that help keep us healthy. Governments have been involved in health care since the Romans started building sewer systems, it isn’t new and it isn’t wrong.

  3. As the cited author clearly is too ill informed to understand, there is no such thing as a punitive damages award in a strict liability case. Punitive damages are reserved for cases when there is clear proof of actual malice — for example, a case for personal injury caused by a boyfriend intentionally running over his girlfriend because they broke up. Also, but for government involvement, by the British in this case, there would be thirty million non-sterile vaccine doses distributed all over the U.S. infecting millions of American elderly people, people with compromised immune systems, and infants with diseases from contamination in the factory. Would it be better if those millions of people got sick due to shoddy vaccine production? And, if the British had been asleep at the switch, would it be better if that vaccine company had no liability if its shoddy standards had made far more people die of the vaccine than were cured by it?