NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cost And Benefits Of Flu Shots

November 17, 2000

If you are waiting for new batches of influenza vaccine to become available for those who are not in high risk categories (Americans over 65, those with chronic respiratory conditions) you might consider this recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers found that flu shots for healthy working adults younger than 65 can reduce rates of influenzalike illness, lost workdays and physician visits -- in years when the vaccine and circulating viruses are similar.

However, vaccination of healthy working adults may not provide overall economic benefits in most years.

  • During the 1997-98 flu season, when the vaccine virus differed from the most common strains, the shots were only 50 percent effective.
  • That year, vaccination did not reduce overall lost workdays or physician visits, and as a result the net cost to society was $65.59 per person vaccinated, compared with no vaccination.
  • During the 1998-99 flu season, the vaccine was well matched with the strains circulating, and reduced illnesses among healthy working adults by 34 percent, physician visits by 42 percent and lost workdays by 32 percent.
  • However, vaccination still had a net cost to society of $11.17 per person for healthy, nonsenior adults.

Of course, from an individual's perspective, the cost of a flu shot might far outweigh the risk of coming down the flu.

Source: Carolyn Buxton Bridges, et al., "Effectiveness and Cost-Benefit of Influenza Vaccination of Healthy Working Adults," Journal of the American Medical Association, October 4, 2000.


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