People who don't get CDC-recommended shots cost the U.S. $7B in 2015: Report

Many Americans don't get their vaccines as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whatever their reasons, when they actually get sick, it's a significant burden to the U.S. economy.

Last year, unvaccinated adults cost the economy $7.1 billion, an analysis done by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found.

Researchers at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy examined the cost of care, medication and lost productivity caused by missing the 10 vaccines recommended by the CDC.

Those 10 vaccines protect people against 14 pathogens, including influenza, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, herpes zoster virus, pneumococcal diseases, meningococcal diseases, measles, mumps, rubella, HPV, chickenpox, hepatitis A and hepatitis B.

Flu took the lion's share of the total, accounting for about $5.8 billion, with pneumococcal disease and shingles coming in next at $1.86 billion and $782 million respectively.

Americans have traditionally lagged in flu shot adherence. Even though the CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated against flu every season unless a doctor suggests otherwise, only 42% of adults bothered to get one during the 2015-2016 flu season, according to a CDC estimate. With AstraZeneca’s nasal mist version of the flu vax, FluMist, unavailable this year because of a deficiency in efficacy, the CDC is worried that the flu vaccination rate could drop even further.

Of course, adults' opinions of vaccines can also affect vaccination rates for children. Parental opposition to vaccines recently forced the American Academy of Pediatrics to change its stance to suggest that pediatricians can dismiss parents who don’t comply with the recommended vaccine schedules. In 2015, a measles outbreak traced back to Disneyland in California also raised concerns about the growing trend among parents who shun childhood vaccines.

The UNC study was funded by Merck, a large vaccine player whose list of products includes HPV vax market leader Gardasil, pneumococcal vax Pneumovax 23 and zoster vaccine Zostavax, among others. The company does not market a flu vaccine.

As the goal of the UNC project was to estimate the economic burden of vaccine-preventable diseases rather than to study the impact of vaccination, the research focused on the costs incurred for treating those diseases and did not factor in the cost of vaccination, the study's lead author, Associate Professor Sachiko Ozawa, told FiercePharma in an email.

“Of course our study is just one step, and it would be important to look at the cost of vaccination programs alongside the benefits of vaccination to understand the return on investment,” Ozawa said.

According to the adult influenza vaccine price list published by the CDC for the 2016-2017 flu season, a single dose of flu shot can cost from $14.41 (Novartis’ Fluvirin) to $35.75 (Protein Sciences’ Flublok) for private providers and citizens.

With the adult population of the U.S. around 247.8 million, according to statistics by the U.S. Census Bureau, if that entire population were vaccinated at the $14.41 private sector price, the cost would be about $3.57 billion. However, it is also possible for individuals to get free flu shots from certain healthcare plans provided by their employers or from taxpayer-funded public health agencies.

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