Health Care Only Matters If You Can Get It

How long will those smiles last if there is no vaccine today? Source: GSK Website

A family member was on hold with a neighborhood chain pharmacy during a recent call.  The purpose of the call?  To schedule her second shot in the new shingles vaccination regimen.  Even though she got shot number one there, the response was not one single outlet of the giant chain in the Richmond region had the vaccine, and none would give her an idea when to call back.

While she was on hold, the voice-over ad was touting the new shingles vaccine! “That ad decision was made by corporate” the frustrated pharmacist said when challenged on that point.  Well, I suspect corporate was compensated well for that decision.

It was easy to find this Washington Post piece about the shortage and this information on the Centers for Disease Control website.  CDC expects the shortage to last through 2018 and that chain drug store, with the three-letter name, told my family member they are so swamped with demand that most stores simply will not do the shots even if supply comes in.

Shingles is no fun, I’m told, but it won’t kill you.  The CDC reports no similar shortage of vaccines for the diseases that can kill you, such as meningitis or pneumonia.

This tells me demand is purely a function of a massive advertising campaign by the manufacturer and is also driven by the co-pay-less availability of this “ounce of prevention” under many health plans.  The role of advertising and other marketing practices in the misallocation of health resources in this country is substantially underestimated.  We do pay for those ads, one way or another.

I had to think back to earlier statements on Bacon’s Rebellion that just because another 300,000 or more Virginians may soon have a third-party payment method for health care that is no guarantee they will find it.  And if massive resources are going to be deployed to create such overwhelming demand, should the shingles shot be the target?

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7 responses to “Health Care Only Matters If You Can Get It

  1. “CDC expects the shortage to last through 2018 and that chain drug store, with the three-letter name, told my family member they are so swamped with demand that most stores simply will not do the shots even if supply comes in.”

    Reminds me of the Yogi Berra quote, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

    Why wouldn’t the three letter drug store want to give the shots if the medicine came in? Don’t they charge somebody for the medicine?

    Are these clowns really going to buy Aetna? Shudder.

  2. Yeah, think about that. They said where they have those “minute clinics” or whatever they call them the shot might be offered – if available. In the general stores the pharmacy staff doesn’t have the time to give the number of shots being requested….The minute and arcane details of medical finance and compensation are probably driving all of this, but we’ll never know. I think a piece of legislation is forming in my head – if you offer the first part of a treatment with multiple steps, you can’t just back out of the follow-thru without consequences….

  3. For what it’s worth, I got a shingles vaccine at the drug chain with three letters — no wait at all. That was about seven or eight months ago. The vaccine was supposed to reduce the chances of getting shingles by 40% and reduce the severity of the symptoms for people who did get it. Didn’t sound very promising, but I got the shot anyway. Nobody told me what the odds were of contracting the disease from the vaccine.

    As it turns out, that’s a risk. A good friend contracted shingles immediately after getting the shot. She still suffers intense shingles pain seven or eight years later. Don’t know if she got the shot at CVS or not. But she is 100% sure that the vaccine caused her problem.

  4. If you got one shot and not two you got the old vaccine, far less effective, but they advertised it heavily without telling people the new one was coming. Talk about your waste and fraud….

  5. I’m not hearing a lot of sympathy here for letting markets work this out. But if I were a believer in markets over, say, government regulation, I’d say, let the advertising dollars seek to build demand for the product; let any resulting shortages provoke more production. Why would any business INTENTIONALLY spend advertising dollars on a product it doesn’t intend to sell?

    Meanwhile, donate any extra cases of shingles to your neighborhood Habitat For Humanity.

    • To drive up demand and support a higher price? Just guessing. Hey, I’ll admit my bias and would end advertising for prescription meds tomorrow.

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