Flu vaccine prices uniformly rise 50 percent in Japan

JIJI

Retail prices of seasonal influenza vaccines made by four major Japanese drug makers this autumn have risen a uniform 50 percent from a year before, medical and municipal sources said Saturday.

Medical institutions are concerned that the country’s influenza immunization rate may drop due to higher prices, the sources said. Flu vaccinations start in October in Japan.

While prices of many medical products are decided by the government, influenza vaccine makers set their prices freely as flu vaccinations are not covered under the national health insurance program.

“I don’t think this is a free competition,” a source said, raising questions about the uniform rises in retail flu vaccine prices.

As for the reason for the price hikes, the drug makers cited rises in production costs reflecting an increase in the number of antigens in vaccines from three to four based on a health ministry decision in May.

This season’s vaccines target two strains each of type A and type B influenza viruses, while the previous vaccines covered just one type B strain and two type A strains.

In Japan, flu vaccines are distributed to medical institutions and others through wholesalers.

The makers do not disclose suggested retail prices. But doctors and municipal government officials in many parts of the country said that wholesalers are asking for ¥1,500 per vaccination for adults, against ¥1,000 a year before.

Some wholesalers offer discounts, but the margin is around ¥100 across the board, sources said.

A health ministry official said that the ministry does not provide price guidelines, claiming that flu vaccine prices are decided by the market.

But a hospital official said it is unusual that all of the vaccine manufacturers have raised prices.

Drugmakers and distributors declined to comment.

In Japan, flu shots are voluntary. Many people who want to get them pay the full costs, including fees to doctors.

Many doctors are finding it difficult to pass on higher vaccine prices to consumers.

“The immunization rate may fall due to the heavier financial burden” of influenza vaccinations, a pediatrician in Chiba Prefecture said.

Many doctors are considering cutting their fees to curb prices of flu shots. Price rises of several hundred yen are planned at many hospitals.

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