Japanese flu vaccine makers pump up prices 50%, drawing flak as peak season hits

Japan Health Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki

In an unusual and possibly coordinated move, four Japanese flu vaccine makers hiked retail prices by 50% just ahead of the season when most Japanese start receiving their jabs, officials told the Japan Times.

The officials told the newspaper that there are worries the seemingly coordinated jump in prices could spur people to forgo their shots starting in October.

Flu vaccines are not covered by Japan's national healthcare plan, which means makers can set their own prices. Drugmakers normally do not disclose suggested retail prices, but the Japan Times interviewed doctors and municipal officials who said wholesalers were asking ¥1,500 ($12.50) per dose compared to ¥1,000 a year ago. Doctors then mark that up, with a recent check online showing them charging ¥3,600 and above per dose at private clinics.

The newspaper, however, said that drugmakers had earlier cited higher production costs related to the government's May decision to increase the number of antigens covered in the vaccines.

Hospital officials and others interviewed by the Japan Times said they were concerned that all four drugmakers raised their prices by the same amount at the same time, with one saying it is not "free competition" in the marketplace.

To support the country's immunization rate, some doctors are considering a cut in their fees to ease the burden on people seeking flu shots who usually pay the full amount, the Japan Times said.

Japan's flu season typically peaks in late January or early February.

- here's the story from the Japan Times

Editor's Note: EJ Lane contributed to this story.