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Unvaccinated Adults Place $7 Billion Burden on US Healthcare System

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The flu alone accounted for almost $5.8 billion in healthcare and loss of productivity costs in 2015.

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October 17, 2016 | by Sarah Hand, M.Sc.

According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, in 2015 the US economy spent $8.95 billion treating vaccine-preventable diseases in adults. Unvaccinated adults are responsible for the bulk of this cost, placing a $7.1 billion burden on the healthcare system.

In their analysis, the researchers included data for ten Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended vaccines, which protect against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, herpes zoster, human papillomavirus, influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, meningococcal disease, pneumococcal disease, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis and chickenpox.

To determine how much these vaccine-preventable diseases cost the country, the researchers examined many factors including the cost of medication, expenses associated with inpatient and outpatients care, and the loss of productivity due to illness. The study was published in the journal, Health Affairs.

During the 2015-2016 flu season, the CDC estimates that approximately 42 percent of adults in the US received the flu vaccine. Still, the flu accounted for almost $5.8 billion in healthcare and loss of productivity costs in that year.



Meningitis and pneumonia placed a $1.9 billion burden on the healthcare system, while the shingles-causing herpes zoster virus came in at $782 million. Despite the availability of vaccines for these infectious diseases, their treatment still represents a significant drain on the US economy.

“We believe our estimates are conservative and highlight the potential economic benefit of increasing adult immunization coverage and the value of vaccines,” said Associate Professor Sachiko Ozawa of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. “We hope our study will spur creative healthcare policies that minimize the negative spillover effects from people choosing not to be vaccinated, while still respecting patients' right to make informed choices.”

Ninety-five percent of the nearly $9 billion cost of vaccine-preventable diseases was attributed to inpatient and outpatient care. The remaining five percent accounted for the value of the loss of productivity due to illness.

With previous research focused on the economic burden of select vaccine-preventable diseases, the current study presents a broader view of the state of vaccination in the US. The study investigators used data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and the Nationwide Inpatient Sample database to conduct their analysis, and the research was funded by pharmaceutical and vaccines company, Merck.


Keywords: Vaccine, Infectious Disease, Healthcare


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