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What's the ideal price for the swine flu vaccine?

October 27, 2009 |  4:01 pm

PigHere’s some advice for public health officials who want to maximize the number of people getting the H1N1 flu shot: Make it free.

A study being published in Wednesday’s edition of the British Medical Journal finds that the higher the price for the swine flu shot, the lower the odds that people will get it. For instance, three times as many people said they would get a free shot as would get one that cost more than $25.

Hkflu The results are based on a survey conducted in Hong Kong, whose recent experience with severe acute respiratory syndrome and H5N1 bird flu arguably give the general public a heightened sensitivity to outbreaks of novel viruses. Even so, only 45% of those surveyed said they were "highly likely" to get an H1N1 flu shot if it were available for free.

Interest in the vaccine fell steadily from there. A modest price of up to 100 Hong Kong dollars (about $12.90) was enough to knock down interest in the shot to 36%; a price between 100 and 200 Hong Kong dollars reduced it to 24%; and anything above 200 Hong Kong dollars cut acceptance down to 15%, the study found.

Price wasn’t the only factor standing between people and the H1N1 vaccine. Twenty-seven percent of the people surveyed said the shot would be “inconvenient,” and 16% complained that it would cause too many side effects, including “very severe” ones.  (In reality, the CDC says that side effects are rare and are likely to be mild. For more information, check out this Q&A.)

The biggest turn-off for the vaccine would be a lack of information proving that it is safe and effective. Without that data, fully 95% of those surveyed said they would skip the shot regardless of price. However, since the survey was conducted in July, early data on the swine flu vaccines have shown that they “are well tolerated and induce a strong immune response in most healthy adults,” according to a statement last month from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Masks may be more popular than the H1N1 vaccine in Hong Kong, a new study finds. Photo credit: Vincent Yu / Associated Press