The enormous economic value of vaccination – that is, the economic benefits of a vaccine far outweighs the costs – is often overlooked, especially by those who invent some massive conspiracy by “Big Pharma” to push vaccines.
The standard anti-vaccine trope is that vaccines are a gargantuan profit center for pharmaceutical companies. That would be false. In fact, if we are going to endow Big Pharma with immorality and evil motives, they would stop making vaccines and profiting off of the massive illnesses that would ensue. But that’s not what happens.
The facts are that pharmaceutical companies manufacture and market vaccines at a moderate profit, forsaking the much larger profits in a world with rampant vaccine-preventable diseases. I’m not one of those naïve individuals who think that Big Pharma is filled with 100% altruistic and moral individuals. However, it mostly is.
Moving away from the economic benefits and profits for the pharmaceutical industry, there is a tremendous economic value of vaccination for society at large. And it’s important to make this clear to anyone who is willing to listen.
Economic value of vaccination
In a study by Sachiko Ozawa et al., from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in the journal, Health Affairs, examined the vaccination rates of 94 low- and middle-income countries from 2011 to 2020 to determine the economic benefits of vaccine programs.
The researchers took two different approaches to examining the evidence of a economic benefit of vaccination.
In the first method, the team examined the “cost of illness” and focuses on items like the actual cost of treatment and productivity losses. In this method, they found that there was US$16.00 benefit for every dollar spent on vaccinations.
They then took a broader examination, which included economic and social benefits of living a longer and healthier life – using that data, the researchers found a US$44.00 benefit for every dollar spent.
To make the data as realistic as possible, the study team included the costs of supply chain, service delivery, vaccine costs, and vaccine storage in the “price” of the vaccinations. And yes, they included the cost of “vaccine adverse events,” of which there were so few, it had no profound impact on the study data.
In addition, the study assessed 10 vaccine-preventable infections: Haemophilus influenzae type b, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus, Japanese encephalitis, measles, Neisseria meningitis serogroup A, rotavirus, rubella, Streptococcus pneumoniae and yellow fever. All of these infectious and dangerous diseases can be prevented by routinely available vaccines.
But there’s more
Vaccination strategies are much more than just a pure economic calculation. In an article published in the same issue of Health Affairs, authors Luyten and Beutels examined the broader benefits of vaccination programs which don’t have objective economic values:
In this article we also argue that socioethical contributions such as effects on health equity, sustaining the public good of herd immunity, and social integration of minority groups are neglected in cost-effectiveness analysis. Evaluations of vaccination programs require broad and multidimensional perspectives that can account for their social, ethical, and economic impact as well as their cost-effectiveness.
In 2014, over US$3.6 billion in vaccine assistance, driven predominantly by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the governments of the United States and United Kingdom, was given to lower and middle income countries throughout the world. Using the $44 benefit for each dollar spent, the overall value of the contribution is over US$150 billion for health care. And of course, the social benefits are even larger.
Economic value of vaccination – summary
Vaccines save lives. They also save on the cost of health care. Most of real science has described vaccines as a miracle drug, one of the greatest inventions of modern medicine. This article by Ozawa et al. provides us with data to support the economic value of vaccination.
The anti-vaccine culture overlooks many facts in their religious beliefs about vaccines. They disregard the toll of deaths. Their religion ignores the costs of hospitalizations. The anti-vaccine world trivializes the impact on families and parents from vaccine preventable diseases.
The best we can do is show the anti-vaccine adherents the facts.
Editor’s note – this article was first published in February 2016. It has been updated to fix a few formatting issues, remove advertising, and clean up links.
- Haakenstad A, Birger M, Singh L, Liu P, Lim S, Ng M, Dieleman JL. Vaccine Assistance To Low- And Middle-Income Countries Increased To $3.6 Billion In 2014. Health Aff (Millwood). 2016 Feb 1;35(2):242-9. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2015.1080. PubMed PMID: 26858376.
- Luyten J, Beutels P. The Social Value Of Vaccination Programs: Beyond Cost-Effectiveness. Health Aff (Millwood). 2016 Feb 1;35(2):212-8. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2015.1088. PubMed PMID: 26858372.
- Ozawa S, Clark S, Portnoy A, Grewal S, Brenzel L, Walker DG. Return On Investment From Childhood Immunization In Low- And Middle-Income Countries, 2011-20. Health Aff (Millwood). 2016 Feb 1;35(2):199-207. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2015.1086. PubMed PMID: 26858370.