Budget cuts are NOT why there's no Ebola vaccine

The Ebola outbreak that has now reached our shores has a lot of people understandably worried.

It also has a number of biotech companies rushing to produce and effective vaccine for the deadly virus.

A member a HazMat team disinfects the entrance to the home of the Texas nurse who contracted Ebola from a patient.
A member a HazMat team disinfects the entrance to the home of the Texas nurse who contracted Ebola from a patient.

For those of you who are somewhat economically and morally confused these days, please understand that this private sector vaccine discovery effort is a good thing.

Now don't get me wrong. There is an important role for the government to play in all of this. Enforcing public safety through screenings, quarantines, and distributing vaccines to the general public are all jobs the public sector is trained to do best.

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But creating the best vaccine in the fastest possible time at the lowest possible cost needs to be something left to the private sector with financial gain, and not political point-scoring, serving as the primary motivation.

That's why NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins has it a bit wrong when he blamed government budget cuts as the reason that we don't have a fully-approved and stocked Ebola vaccine already. Where he misses the mark is by not realizing that too much government involvement changes the priorities from vital projects like eradicating killer diseases and makes a priority out of political patronage and pet projects. Regulation and control of drug development makes that vital process too dependent on politics and budget cuts in the first place. All those regulations and controls discourage the for-profit pharma industry from the vaccination business almost entirely. Meanwhile, the NIH never seemed to mind taking the taxpayers' money to fund projects like testing origami condoms on rabbits and researching bike lanes and farmers markets.

Remember when the U.S. almost ran out of the flu vaccine a few years ago? That was because the government had taken every bit of potential profit out of the motivation for producing those vaccines. Dr. Collins certainly is not personally responsible for the government takeover of that part of the industry, but he is ignoring the downside of that dominance. If you don't want politicians screwing things up, limit their ability to get involved in the first place.

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All of this leads to an important lesson about keeping the growing number of politicians and Far Left activists from continuing their ongoing and terrifying war on "Big Pharma."

You've heard some of the classic complaints and attacks on the drug companies from these groups before, including charges of price gouging, withholding life-saving treatments, and destroying natural and homeopathic alternatives to man-made medicines.

It's one thing when these political and populist movements reduce supplies of drugs needed to save the lives of people who are already afflicted with everything from cancer to hepatitis, but anti-pharma groups getting in the way of new drugs, vaccines and treatments that could save us from a terrible pandemic is going too far.

We've seen this kind of thing before in human history.

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A stark case occurred during the worst outbreak of the Black Death in Europe during the 14th Century. Religious leaders and opportunists, used the deadly plague to increase and consolidate their power. Some clergy even advised people not to wash regularly, because they claimed it was an act of vanity that aroused God's anger. Thus, the precise activity that would have helped thousands ward off the contagion, was discouraged.

So why do today's Leftist groups and grandstanding quasi-populist politicians really target pharma?

It's because nothing demonstrates the basic economic laws of supply and demand, risk and reward, and opportunity cost better than life-saving drugs.

And when you fight against those laws of economics like the Left always does, pharmaceuticals become a prime target.

Their complaints fail on economic and moral grounds.

Let's start with the economics.

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The biggest health-care costs all over the world are directly connected to hospitalization. That's the back-breaker and the costs from that outweigh the cost of all prescription-drug spending by an almost 4:1 ratio.

In other words, if we can get people cured/treated with drugs rather than checking them into a hospital we have a chance to save roughly 75 cents on the dollar in medical spending.

But for the most common ailments, the savings are off the charts. That $5 flu vaccine you get each year decreases your chances significantly for a flu-related ER visit averaging about $3,330. That's a savings of 99.85 percent for those of you doing the math.

The hot-button drug cost over the past year has been Gilead Science's Sovaldi for Hepatitis C. The full treatment costs $84,000, and that sounds steep. But the average hospitalization cost per year for people suffering with advanced Hep C is about $59,000. So if you're planning on living longer than one year with this disease, Sovaldi is actually a bargain.

Cancer drugs can be a lot more expensive than Sovaldi. Some cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for just a single patient. But again, compared to the cost of hospitalization of cancer patients, these drugs are still a bargain.

Because all of these drugs require massive money, time and hard work to develop, focusing on the revenues alone is not even half the story.

And of course you can't put a price on the value of saving a life, or a hundred lives, or a million lives.

That's where the moral failure of the anti-pharma movement comes in.

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Notice how these groups never question the effectiveness of the drugs. They only complain about the price. If the protest movements are trying to claim that pharma companies are pricing people out of life-saving care, won't stopping them from making the drugs or developing them in the first place produce the same results?

And notice how much harm the ignorant, dangerous and hypocritical anti-child vaccination movement, (a close sibling to the anti-corporate pharma protest movement), has done to public health in the past decade. Measles, chicken pox, and whooping cough are making a strong comeback all over America and children are dying. It doesn't get more immoral that that.

Pushing for more regulations, more price controls, and pursuing a general demonization campaign will only create more shortages, ignorance and death.

Governments and private citizens alike should be looking to find ways to keep costs down by making their drugs more available to more people and creating economies of scale. This has been done time and again when prescription drugs go over-the-counter and end up benefits both buyer and manufacturer in the process.

Call me a corporate shill if you must, but when it comes to protecting and creating new incentives for scientists to help prolong and improve our lives, I'm all for it.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Street Signs." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.