Measles Vaccine Costs Pennies yet not Available Everywhere


Measles are one of the most contagious diseases known to man. It can infect a crowded room from exposure to only one person, as it is an airborne virus. What makes it frightening is that it can live outside the human body for up to two hours, and it has a 90 percent transmission rate. Tragically, the measles vaccine is not widely available in developing or underdeveloped nations, and it only costs pennies to administer a dose.

Described as early as the 10th century with symptoms that include red rash, cough, sore eyes, red-rimmed eyes and fever, measles is a deadly disease that costs less than one dollar per dose to administer.

Where childhood vaccinations are mandated, death by the disease has decreased by 80 percent. Part of South Asia and most of Africa though do not have the access to this vaccine the way the rest of the world does. Estimates warn close to 750,000 people, mostly children, die each year because of measles. Approximately half of these deaths are in Africa. Two doses would prevent these deaths – two doses is the equivalent of having the measles once. Someone who survives a case of the measles becomes immune, or they could be given two doses during childhood.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) it costs $1.91 per dose – this is what the doctor’s office or hospital is charged by Merck, a pharmaceutical company. This is not the actual cost of each dose. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the measles vaccine costs less than one U.S. dollar per dose to administer. In 2012, there were still about 330 deaths each day or 122,000 deaths for the year. The measles vaccine is cheap compared to other medicines and could effectively eradicate the disease, but it is not available in every country.

There is a collaborative, the Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&R Initiative), made up of the WHO, UNICEF, the American Red Cross, the United Nations and the CDC to support those who would otherwise not be able to afford the vaccination. Their eventual goal is to eliminate measles.

This eventual eradication, if possible, would also keep health costs down. In 2010, there was a case in San Diego where 11 children contracted measles and between them they exposed about 839 people. A total of $124,517 was spent on containment and treatment. Compared to the cost of the doses need to prevent infection this is exorbitant. This is what taxpayers paid. The 48 children quarantined cost their families on average $775. There was one infant hospitalized and their family incurred medical bills just under $15,000.

Another valid reason to work together to make sure children are vaccinated, especially since the vaccine costs little, is the other serious diseases those infected with the measles can develop. Untreated measles or measles that do not respond quickly can cause deafness, miscarriage, pneumonia, and even encephalitis. Each of these comes with its own set of bills and exorbitant costs for families, hospitals and taxpayers. Whether one is a humanitarian or an economist it makes sense to vaccinate and make vaccinations for measles available to all who need it.

By Sara Kourtsounis

The Boston Globe