The Value and Cost Savings of Getting Vaccinated

We often hear a lot about the benefits of vaccines.

Even the schools were closed in San Antonio when polio came to Texas in 1946.
How much would it cost to close all of the schools in a big city today?

Well, most of us do.

But can getting vaccinated really help save us money?

Cost Savings of Getting Vaccinated

Vaccines are expensive, so it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to many people that saving money is one of the big benefits of getting vaccinated.

That’s just because vaccines work so well.

“Analyses showed that routine childhood immunization among members of the 2009 US birth cohort will prevent ∼42 000 early deaths and 20 million cases of disease, with net savings of $13.5 billion in direct costs and $68.8 billion in total societal costs, respectively.”

Zhou et al on Economic Evaluation of the Routine Childhood Immunization Program in the United States, 2009

Few of us remember the pre-vaccine era when there were polio and diphtheria hospitals and “pest houses” at the edge of town.

We don’t remember when outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases would close schools and these diseases were more deadly, not because they were more severe, but simply because they were more common.

Costs Associated With Getting Sick

If we don’t remember these diseases and outbreaks, we certainly don’t remember how much it cost to control and treat them.

We should though.

Just look at how much it costs to control the recent measles outbreaks that continue to plague us.

“The estimated total number of personnel hours for the 16 outbreaks ranged from 42,635 to 83,133 and the corresponding total estimated costs for the public response accrued to local and state public health departments ranged from $2.7 million to $5.3 million US dollars.”

Ortega-Sanchez on The economic burden of sixteen measles outbreaks on United States public health departments in 2011

Not including the direct costs for outpatient visits and inpatient care, recent outbreaks have cost anywhere from $3,000 to $50,000 per case to contain. Why the difference? Localized outbreaks, like in a church group or among a single family, will be easier and less expensive to contain, as they will likely involve fewer contacts to track down to see if they were exposed and are already vaccinated.

Again, these costs don’t include the costs of going to your doctor or the ER because your child is sick, getting hospitalized, or lab tests, etc.

It also doesn’t include the costs associated with living under quarantine, which is happening in many of the recent outbreaks.

Getting sick is expensive.

How much is a liver transplant?

How much does it cost to treat someone with cervical cancer?

How much does it take to care for a child with congenital rubella syndrome?

How do anti-vax folks usually counter this important message?

They typically say that taking care of a vaccine-injured child is expensive too. While that can be true, the problem is with their idea of what constitutes a vaccine injury. While vaccines are not 100% safe and they can rarely cause serious or even life-threatening reactions, most of what they describe as vaccine-induced diseases, from autism to SIDS, are not actually associated with vaccines.

The Value of Vaccination

So yes, getting vaccinated is cost effective.

“Cost-effectiveness analysis has become a standard method to use in estimating how much value an intervention offers relative to its costs, and it has become an influential element in decision making. However, the application of cost-effectiveness analysis to vaccination programs fails to capture the full contribution such a program offers to the community. Recent literature has highlighted how cost-effectiveness analysis can neglect the broader economic impact of vaccines.”

Luyten et al on The Social Value Of Vaccination Programs: Beyond Cost- Effectiveness

The value of getting vaccinated goes way beyond saving money though.

Most of the ways this has been studied in the past still leaves out a lot of important things, including:

  • increased productivity later in life following vaccination
  • improved cognitive and educational outcomes
  • community-level health gains through herd effects
  • prevention of antibiotic resistance
  • vaccination-related benefits to macroeconomic factors and political stability
  • furthering moral, social, and ethical aims

Why are these important?

“Vaccination has greatly reduced the burden of infectious diseases. Only clean water, also considered to be a basic human right, performs better. Paradoxically, a vociferous antivaccine lobby thrives today in spite of the undeniable success of vaccination programmes against formerly fearsome diseases that are now rare in developed countries.”

Andre et al on Vaccination greatly reduces disease, disability, death and inequity worldwide

If you are making a decision to get vaccinated vs. trying to hide in the herd, you want to have all of the information about the benefits of vaccines, not just about the risks, or what you might think are risks.

Vaccines Are Expensive

Although getting vaccinated is certainly cost-effective, that doesn’t erase the fact that vaccines are expensive.

If they weren’t so expensive, then we likely still wouldn’t have so many deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases in the developing world, where the problem is access to vaccines, not vaccine-hesitant parents.

“We conclude that the vaccination portion of the business model for primary care pediatric practices that serve private-pay patients results in little or no profit from vaccine delivery. When losses from vaccinating publicly insured children are included, most practices lose money.”

Coleman on Net Financial Gain or Loss From Vaccination in Pediatric Medical Practices

Parents should also be aware that vaccines are expensive for the average pediatrician too, who no matter what anti-vax folks may claim about bonuses, aren’t making much or any money on vaccinating kids.

And because vaccines work, pediatricians also don’t make as much money when vaccinated kids don’t get diarrhea and dehydration that is prevented by the rotavirus vaccine, recurrent ear infections that are prevented by Prevnar, or a high fever from measles, etc., all things that would typically trigger one or more office visits.

It should be clear that the only reason that pediatricians “push vaccines” is because they are one of the greatest achievements in public health.

A great achievement at a great value.

What to Know About the Cost Savings of Getting Vaccinated

There is no question that there is great value in getting fully vaccinated on time and that getting immunized is a very cost effective way to keep kids healthy.

More on the Cost Savings of Getting Vaccinated

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