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Routine annual influenza vaccination of all working adults could save the nation as much as $1.3 billion each year, according to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) study published in the March 12 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine, published by the American Medical Association. Current medical guidelines recommend routine flu vaccination only for people age 50 and older, and other high-risk groups.
The VA study, which examined health, labor, and economic statistics in a sophisticated computer model, took into account rates of illness from influenza, time lost from work, hourly wages, the costs of vaccination, and other direct and indirect costs. Results showed that on average health costs would be reduced $13.66 per person vaccinated. If all of the nation’s 94 million full-time workers, ages 18 to 64, received the vaccination, these savings would total nearly $1.3 billion annually.
Lead author Kristin Nichol, MD, MPH, MBA, of the Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis, says the study provides important evidence in support of a nationwide policy of routine vaccination for all working adults.
"The results show that substantial health and economic benefits could be realized from vaccinating all working adults against influenza, especially when immunization takes place at the work site or another site that would be efficient and low-cost," Nichol says. Nichol also is a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
In a worst-case scenario — for example, a bad match between the circulating strain of the flu and the available vaccine, and less efficient ways of distributing the vaccine — routine vaccination would still produce health benefits but would cost $21.27 per person. In an ideal scenario, $174.32 per person would be saved. But these cases would be extreme, said the report. More likely scenarios produced outcomes from $32.97 in net savings per person vaccinated to $2.18 in net costs. Vaccination would save money in 95% of cases, according to the VA computer model.
The flu affects up to 25% of the American population each year. Symptoms include fever, sore throat, cough, headaches, and weakness and may last up to a week. Traditionally, only high-risk groups such as the elderly, for whom flu-related health care costs can reach into the billions annually, have been targeted for vaccination. But even among the general population, the flu causes up to 75 million lost workdays and 22 million doctor visits each year, according to 1995 figures. Half of flu cases result in a visit to a primary care physician.