New research ‘An Economic Analysis of Flu Vaccination’ paints a picture of lives saved and costs averted, but more needs to be done to increase uptake
New research by the International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC-UK) argues that Government should take into account the economic as well as the health benefits of vaccination when assessing the value of vaccination.
ILC-UK have developed a new static economic model which finds:
- Vaccination averts between 180,000 and 626,000 cases of influenza per year in England
- Flu vaccination helps avert between 5,678 and 8,800 premature deaths per year
- The vast majority of hospital cases caused by influenza are among older adults. Over 1,800 individuals hospitalised in 2016-2017 were aged between 80 and 84 – higher than any other age group
The new research highlights how influenza can have an adverse impact on productivity within the economy. It finds that the greatest economic benefit from vaccination is derived from reducing the cost of lost employment and lost care giving (“human capital costs”). The research points out for example, that the average annual amount an older person benefits in the way of informal care is equivalent to the value of £2,905 per annum.
- ILC-UK find that human capital costs of influenza range from £90 million to £270 million.
- The NHS flu vaccination programme costs £50,610 per death averted
The ILC-UK note that their model is a static model and therefore a conservative one and thus likely to underestimate the potential cost benefits. The study shows the importance of including human capital as well as health costs. They also argue that any assessment of the value of vaccination should incorporate the human capital as well as the health costs.
Compared to other countries the UK does relatively well in terms of vaccinating the over 65s against flu (71% over those aged over 65 were vaccinated in 2015), however, the research highlights we are less good at vaccinating “at risk” groups. The researchers also argue that greater effort should be made by policymakers to increase coverage rates, especially among younger people who are actually more likely to contract flu. Flu vaccines work best in young adults.
- There remain over 6.2 million “at risk” individuals who had not been vaccinated against influenza during the 2016/17 flu season.
Over 450 people officially died from the flu in 2011 and another spike in deaths was recorded in 2016. However, the researchers point out that this data is only likely to account for a small proportion of total influenza related deaths, since often the death may be linked to influenza but this is not recorded as the primary cause of death.
The researchers find substantial potential cost savings when the vaccine is well matched to disease but argue that, if we are to maximise the economic return, it is important to raise the efficacy of the vaccine among older age groups in particular. In years where the flu strains selected for the vaccine match those circulating in the community, the vaccine works better than those years in which there is a mismatch. Some vaccine technologies may also help by including a booster (known as an adjuvant) or by giving older people a higher dose. The researchers also argue that greater effort should be made by policymakers in terms of increasing coverage rates among younger people where efficacy and incidence is higher.
ILC-UK argue that the cost-benefit analysis is highly sensitive to vaccine administration costs and urge Government to look to ways of delivering the vaccination more efficiently. Given the costs of delivering a vaccine through a pharmacy are cheaper than through a GP, the authors argue there may be opportunities to find further reductions in the cost of delivery.
Ben Franklin, Assistant Director of Research and Policy said:
”Seasonal influenza remains a potent public health concern around the globe and much of the burden falls on older people. The flu continues to impose a serious burden on health services, as well as resulting in “productivity losses” due to poor health and sick days. Policymakers should take into account the economic as well as the health costs of vaccine preventable diseases when assessing the value of vaccination. Industry must work to ensure that innovations in vaccination improve the efficacy of vaccination among older people.”