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Jan. 12, 2013: Erick Perez, 9, of St. Louis Park, checked out his bandage after getting a flu shot from Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency RN Renae Gronli during a flu clinic at Aquila Elementary School.

Joles, David, Star Tribune

America's savings from childhood vaccines: $1.7 trillion

  • Article by: Karen Kaplan
  • Los Angeles Times
  • April 24, 2014 - 8:59 PM

– How much are childhood vaccines worth to America? Nearly $1.7 trillion, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That figure represents the net savings of 20 years’ worth of vaccines administered to American children born between 1994 and 2013 over their lifetimes, said a report in Friday’s CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

An estimated $295 billion worth of that savings comes in the form of direct costs averted, and $1.38 trillion is the value of savings to society.

Researchers examined the costs and benefits of vaccinations of the federal Vaccines for Children (VFC) program two decades after it was implemented in 1994. The program helps make sure that kids don’t miss recommended vaccines due to an inability to pay.

It was created after an outbreak of 55,000 cases of measles between 1989 and 1991 that was attributed to “widespread failure to vaccinate uninsured children,” the report said.

Multiple vaccines included

When VFC began, the program covered immunizations for nine diseases: measles, mumps, rubella, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (also known as whooping cough) and hepatitis B. The program expanded to include chickenpox, hepatitis A, flu, rotavirus and pneumococcal disease.

To quantify the benefits of vaccinations, researchers from the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases compared vaccination rates in the 1994-2013 period with data from 1967-1985 and from 1991-1993.

Over the entire lifetimes of the 78.6 million U.S. babies born in the first two decades of VFC, routine childhood vaccines will prevent an estimated 731,700 premature deaths, 21 million hospitalizations and 322 million illnesses.

That works out to an average of 4.1 fewer illnesses per child and 0.27 fewer hospitalizations per child. Researchers did not include vaccines for hepatitis A, flu or adolescent vaccines.

More than half of the prevented illnesses were of three types — nearly 70 million fewer cases of measles, 68 million fewer cases of chickenpox and 54 million fewer cases of whooping cough. The majority of premature deaths averted — 507,300 — were deaths that would have been due to diphtheria, a bacterial infection.

Success comes with warning

The direct expense of routine vaccinations during the 20-year period amounted to $107 billion, and the societal costs added $121 billion more, the CDC researchers said.

But those figures paled in comparison to the estimated $402 billion in direct costs and $1.5 trillion in societal costs that have been and will be averted over the lifetime of these vaccinated children.

“Children in our country are no longer at significant risk from diseases that once killed thousands each year,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC director. But he warned that current measles outbreaks “serve as a reminder that these diseases are only a plane ride away. Borders can’t stop measles, but vaccination can.”

© 2014 Star Tribune