Monday, February 1, 2010

Rotavirus vaccine

There were pieces covering a study about the rotavirus vaccine in the Seattle Times and Reuters last week (as well as a few others).

The main theme of this set of pieces is that more than 500,000 children die each year because of diarrhea.  Diarrhea can be caused by a number of things, and rotavirus one of the key causes.  The vaccine (if administered to all children) is predicted to save as many as 2,000,000 lives over the next decade.

So, what does that translate into?  First, that means 200,000 kids each year could be saved.
Giving all children the vaccination would mean vaccinating 130 million children each year.  This is a lot of vaccinations.

According to a CDC website, the lesser price for a rotavirus vaccination is approximately $7 per dose in the private sector.  That is just for the vaccination--not including the cost of getting it to various places around the world, storing it properly, and administering it.  In any case, even at just $7 per dose that would be $910,000,000 to save 200,000 children.  In other words, $4550 per child saved.  Given the number of years of life we are talking about for each child (as most children who die from diarrhea are under age 5) this does not seem like an unreasonable price to pay--even in lower income countries.

So what do we have to consider:

(1) Even at just $7 per dose plus transport, storage, and administration, this may still be expensive for some low income country governments and this will have to be considered carefully.  Where will the money come from?

(2) How much is it worth to save a child?  What price are we willing to put on life?  Should we have to put a price on life?  If we did not, how would we make resource allocation decisions?

Not easy questions to answer.