[extropy-chat] Are vaccinations useless?

Robin Hanson rhanson at gmu.edu
Mon Mar 13 17:18:24 UTC 2006

At 10:24 AM 3/13/2006, Keith Henson wrote:
> > >Consider the question of whether advances in health and longevity are
> > >largely due or are not due to medicine.  ...
> >
> >To elaborate, the answer of no is not only the accepted answer in public
> >health, it is also the accepted answer in the economics of health, 
> and in the
> >sociology of health.   It is only some in medicine who say otherwise.
>I have known Robin for a long time and I don't doubt his statement about
>the academic consensus, but I have a hard time squaring "the consensus"
>with simple first order models, especially economic models.
>Smallpox used to infect virtually everyone.  Depending on the variety it
>killed 10-35% of those infected.  If the economic cost of feeding, clothing
>and housing a child up to an average age of being infected (say 5 years)
>was a dollar a day and the cost of vaccination was 10 dollars (which seems
>high), then the average saving per vaccination was at least 364x1x5x0.1/10
>or at least 18 to one.
>Now obviously it isn't economically sensible to vaccinate against diseases
>that have much lower death rates or infect a much smaller segment of the
>population.  And it could be noted that measles and chicken pox vaccines
>were developed *long* after smallpox vaccine perhaps for this very reason
>(the rising cost of raising children).
>But consider animal production.  An awful lot of vaccines go into animal
>production.  That's a very competitive business.  It seems likely that
>vaccines are cost effective or producers would not use them.
>What am I missing that the academics see?

I didn't say that no vaccines are worth the cost.  The main claim at issue in
this discussion was whether medicine, including vaccines, are the main cause
of reduced mortality in our modern world relative to our ancestors.

Robin Hanson  rhanson at gmu.edu  http://hanson.gmu.edu
Associate Professor of Economics, George Mason University
MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030-4444
703-993-2326  FAX: 703-993-2323 

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