Another day, another study on the benefit of vaccines. This time, it’s a study on the economic cost of vaccine-preventable diseases among U.S. adults — a cost that likely surpasses your wildest guesses.
Published this week in Health Affairs, the study found that vaccine-preventable diseases affecting adults cost the American economy $8.95 billion in 2015, with unvaccinated adults accounting for $7.1 billion of that total. To conduct the study, researchers examined the economic burden associated with 10 vaccines that protect against hepatitis A; hepatitis B; shingles (or herpes zoster); human papillomavirus (HPV); influenza; measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); meningococcal disease; pneumococcal disease; tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap); and chickenpox.
They found that the majority of that economic burden, about 95 percent, was due to direct medical costs, including $5.9 billion for inpatient treatment and $2.4 billion for outpatient treatment. The remaining 5 percent of the total tab was attributed to productivity losses, i.e. wages lost while receiving medical care. The costliest vaccine-preventable disease was the flu, which accounted for 65 percent, or $5.8 billion, of the economic burden. Another 21 percent, or $1.9 billion of the calculated 2015 burden, was due to pneumococcal disease, and 9 percent, or $782 million, was due to shingles. Study authors Sachiko Ozawa, Allison Portnoy, Hiwote Getaneh, Samantha Clark, Maria Knoll, David Bishai, H. Keri Yang and Pallavi Patwardhan write:
Estimating the economic burden of vaccine-preventable diseases among adults is a first step toward understanding the benefits of increasing adult vaccine uptake in the United States. It highlights the need for US adults to better appreciate the value of vaccines to prevent economic burden. By highlighting the tremendous financial burden that unvaccinated individuals place on the economy and the health system, we hope that our estimates will spur creative policy solutions to reduce the negative externality or spillover effect, while preserving the autonomy of patients to make more informed choices.
The study found that economic costs varied by age groups as well. For example, among people ages 19 to 49, influenza represented the greatest economic burden, at 85 percent, followed by HPV, at 12 percent. For people ages 50 to 64, influenza again took the top spot, followed by shingles. And for adults 65 and older, flu was again in first place, followed by pneumococcal disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 43 percent of U.S. adults got vaccinated against influenza during the 2014-2015 flu season.
About 76 percent, or 14.1 million, of vaccine-preventable disease cases examined in the study occurred among unvaccinated adults, with the economic burden attributable to unvaccinated adults totaling $7.1 billion in 2015.
“The positive health impacts of vaccination, including reduced mortality and morbidity, are recognized more often than the economic burden from people not getting vaccinated,” the study stated. “Estimating and considering the economic burden of adult vaccine-preventable diseases is necessary for public health spending decisions and for increasing adult uptake of vaccines in the United States.”
Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for nearly 15 years.