Smoking Vaccine for Teens Deemed Too Costly

By McCarton Ackerman 03/05/12

Australian researchers say a large scale anti-nicotine shot program would cost too much. Would that also apply in the US?

Australians say anti-smoking drugs aren't
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Australian researchers have deemed a possible vaccination campaign of anti-nicotine shots for teenagers too expensive and ineffective to justify moving forward. In the best case scenario, they believe, the vaccine would cut the number of 12-to-19-year-olds who start smoking from 10% per year to 2%. But citing already-tested anti-smoking vaccines such as Nicvax, they conclude that the drugs would need to achieve better results, require fewer doses and be more cost effective to make a large program worthwhile. "Since we finished our study, Phase III trial results [of NicVax] have become available that fail to show any benefit of a vaccine for smoking cessation, suggesting this 'best case scenario' is highly unrealistic," says Coral Gartner, the University of Queensland researcher who led the study. Each year of sickness or disability that teens receiving the shots would avoid by not smoking could cost anywhere from $80,000 to $530,000—well above Australia's public funding cut-off of $50,000. Gartner thinks other anti-smoking strategies should be considered, such as banning tobacco advertising and higher tobacco taxes. But some believe that a vaccination program could still be viable in the US, where these public funding cut-offs don't apply. "Cost-effectiveness is one consideration, but not the sole consideration, with regard to decisions about vaccine use in the US," says Dr. Grace Lee, a professor at Children's Hospital Boston. She points out that a meningitis vaccine currently recommended for children in the US is thought to cost more than $100,000 for each year of life saved.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.