Vaccines: An Ounce of Prevention that Saves Lives, Cuts Costs

Infectious diseases are a leading cause of death worldwide and are responsible for more deaths annually than cancer. They can be transmitted by a number of routes (e.g. direct/indirect contact, airborne, droplet) and have the potential to affect large populations, as we saw during the Ebola and Zika epidemics of recent years.

Fortunately, vaccines have been developed to reduce or eliminate many deadly infectious diseases. In the United States and Europe, it’s fairly easy to get vaccinated against common infections.  However, many people still are not vaccinated and miss work when they or their family members get sick, generating costly ripple effects.

Which begs the question: What is the cost of not vaccinating employees?

Let’s look at influenza, a common illness with a yearly vaccination that assists in reducing spread of the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • an average of 5-20% of the U.S. population gets the flu each year
  • between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations associated with influenza occur each year in the U.S.
  • the overall national economic burden of influenza-attributable illness for adults 18 and older is estimated at more than $87 billion
  • direct business costs for influenza in adults is estimated at $10.4 billion with substantial indirect costs ($16.3 billion annually), mainly from lost productivity

During 2012-2013, an estimated 45% percent of the U.S. population got vaccinated, helping to prevent an estimated 6.6 million flu-related illnesses, 3.2 million flu-related medical visits and 79,000 hospitalizations.

Similarly, vaccines effectively prevent Hepatitis A and B, measles, pertussis, and many others. Smallpox, once a scourge on the planet, was effectively eradicated by 1980 thanks to vaccinations. Without these vaccines, epidemics of many preventable diseases would return, resulting in amplified and pointless illness, disability, and death.  We are seeing this play out in Pakistan, for example, which has seen polio epidemics and violence against widespread vaccination programs.

There have been multiple studies that show the savings and importance of employee vaccination programs. One study in particular published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that employee vaccination programs yielded a mean savings of $13.66 per person vaccinated. Vaccination also generated savings 95 percent of the time.

OSHA’s Safety Pays Program is another source that can be used to demonstrate the value of vaccination programs.The OSHA calculator shows that a contagious disease resulting in a lost-time illness costs $28,064 (direct + indirect). To recover that loss, a business making a 10 percent profit would have to attain more than $280,000 in additional sales. That is a staggering amount considering the potential for cost avoidance by simple vaccination.

Although it is difficult to quantify costs associated with people who have not been vaccinated, there is compelling research that validates the cost effectiveness of vaccination programs. Most of the research that affects companies is around influenza, but that does not negate the fact that vaccination is important as a whole for employees.

Many workers travel to areas of the world where serious infectious diseases are endemic, or they work in healthcare environments surrounded by patients with contagious diseases. What better way is there to face these diseases than being vaccinated against them? An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.