The world is entering a new era of vaccines. Following the success of covid-19 mRNA shots, scientists have a far greater capacity to tailor shots to a virus’s structure, putting a host of new vaccines on the horizon.
The most recent arrivals — as anyone on the airwaves or social media knows — are several new immunizations against respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
These shots are welcome since RSV can be dangerous, even deadly, in the very old and very young. But the shots are also expensive — about $300 for those directed at adults, and up to $1,000 for one of the shots, a monoclonal antibody rather than a traditional vaccine, intended for babies. Many older vaccines cost pennies.
So their advent is forcing the United States to face anew questions it has long sidestepped: How much should an immunization that will possibly be given — maybe yearly — to millions of Americans cost to be truly valuable? Also, given the U.S. is one of two countries that permit direct advertising to consumers: How can we ensure the shots get into the arms of people who will truly benefit and not be given, at great expense, to those who will not?
Already, ads on televisions and social media show active retirees playing pickleball or going to art galleries whose lives are “cut short by R …