November 15, 2005

Price Gouging for Hg Free Flu Shots

Mercury-free flu shots more than double the price of a regular shot
summit daily news
November 14, 2005

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SUMMIT COUNTY - Mercury-free flu shots are hard to find in the High Country, and the closest clinic is charging more than double the price of a regular flu shot.

None of the Summit County clinics offer mercury-free shots this season, but High Country Health Care will offer them next season, said CEO Dennis Flint.

Colorado Mountain Medical in Edwards does offer the preservative-free flu shots this season. It charges $52 for a single-dose mercury-free shot, as opposed to $21 for the regular flu shot. Shots for infants age 6 to 35 months old cost $104 because they initially receive a half dose, then get the other half a month later, said April Heredia, human resources personnel for Colorado Mountain Medical.

The clinic buys the flu shots from Sanofi Pasteur, who charges about $3 more per dose for its mercury-free shot than it does its regular flu shot. A single-dose regular flu shot costs clinics $9.95, and a single-dose mercury-free shot costs clinics $13.25, said Len Lavenda, spokesperson for Sanofi Pasteur.

"What it boils down to is our administration fee," Heredia said, explaining why patients pay so much more for mercury-free flu shots than regular flu shots.

She declined to comment on why the mercury-free adult shot costs more in fees than the regular adult flu shot when it takes the same time to administer. She pointed out that the shot for infants required two visits. However, the clinic charges double the adult fee for the two half-dose shots.

Demand has increased for mercury-free flu shots, which are made without a preservative called thimerosal that contains mercury. This season, about 6 million to 8 million doses of mercury-free vaccines are available nationwide. Last season, manufacturers released 3.2 million doses.

"We didn't realize there was such a demand, but now we've got a lot of pregnant women upset with (clinics) charging so much," Flint said.

Some parents worry about mercury levels in vaccinations. A 0.5 ml dose of a vaccine such as Fluvirin, Flushield and Fluzone contains 25 micrograms of mercury, far beyond the FDA's limit of 1 microgram per gram allowed in food, according to Justin Pollack, a Frisco naturopath, and, a website geared toward physicians.

Mercury in vaccines is mainly a "potential concern" for infants and young children, said Lola Scott Russell, senior press officer of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC conducted a study using computerized data from three HMOs to see if there was an association between thimerosal and neurodevelopmental disorders. It published results in 2003, saying it found no consistent significant associations across the HMOs. It is funding a follow-up study and expects results by next year, according to the CDC website.

In July, 1999, the Public Health Service agencies, the American Academy of Pediatrics and vaccine manufacturers agreed thimerosal should be reduced or eliminated in vaccines as a precautionary measure, according to the website. Other vaccines for children do not contain thimerosal.

High Country Health Care charges $25 for its regular flu shots, and Flint said the mercury-free flu shots it will offer next season will cost patients the same, as long as manufacturers' prices remain constant.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13624, or at

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