SEATTLE — Vaccinations are generally recognized in the global community as a public investment that saves lives and prevents a wide range of diseases. They also have significant economic value for society. Widespread access to vaccines in developing countries offers many benefits including direct medical savings by preventing illness, and also through indirect economic benefits such as educational attainment, labor productivity, cognitive development, higher income, savings and investment.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), immunizations currently prevent approximately two to three million deaths per year. While vaccinations have the ability to save lives they also prevent a large range of illnesses and disabilities associated with them. These preventable diseases include cervical cancer, diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, pertussis, pneumonia, polio, rubella and tetanus.
According to a recent study published in Health Affairs, a journal that focuses on health policy and healthcare, research has found that vaccinations yield a return of $44 on every $1 spent on immunizations within low and middle-income families. The study, headed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, focused on 94 low and middle-income countries in order to determine the economic benefits of the implementation of widespread vaccination practices.
The study found that immunization programs would cost the countries approximately $34 billion between 2011 and 2020. While an expensive investment for developing nations, this money is a fraction of the estimated economic savings.
The research used two separate approaches to determine the potential investment returns. The “cost of illness” approach measures the averted treatment costs, transportation costs, lost caretaker wages and productivity losses. The “full-income approach,” estimates the broader economic and social benefits of vaccinations and monetizes the value of living longer and healthier lives.
Using the “cost of illness” approach, the study concluded that $586 billion would be averted during the time period, due to the costs of the illnesses associated with vaccine-preventable diseases. Using the “full-income” approach, researchers estimated the economic saving could be around $1.53 trillion.
“In the short term, families save time and money that can be better spent to improve their economic wellbeing. In the long term people will be healthier and more productive in the workplace and in their communities,” Sachiko Ozawa, PhD, MHS, lead author of the study and an assistant scientist in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School said to Research Gate.
While global improvements in vaccine coverage has significantly improved over the last decade, disparities in coverage continue to be a widespread issue. These include limited access to vaccine resources, competing health priorities, inadequate management of healthcare services and systems and poor monitoring of disease spread within populations.
Worldwide, one in five children have not received basic vaccinations, and 1.5 million children die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases, according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
There are also large obstacles to achieving the economic benefits of vaccines in developing countries. Vaccines are often expensive for poor nations to afford, unreliable transport systems make shipment an issue and lack of access to storage facilities that are equipped to preserve large amounts of vaccines make stockpiling next to impossible.
The Vaccine Alliance, or Gavi, a public-private global health partnership founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, aims to lower these obstacles by creating equal access to vaccines for children living in low-income countries across the globe.
“Vaccines are one of the public health’s best buys, as they are relatively easy to deliver and, in most cases, provide lifelong protection,” Anuradha Gupta, the Deputy CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance said to Global Citizen. “In return they boost development through direct medical savings.”
In 2005, researchers at Harvard University estimated that spending by Gavi to expand vaccine coverage would match economic returns similar to that of primary education, or about 18 percent by 2020.
Childhood vaccination practices in developing nations is particularly beneficial for the economies of poor nations. They avert high medical treatment costs for children. Parents are able to avoid lost wages from taking care of sick children. Children whose lives are prolonged through vaccinations contribute to their economies also bring social value to their communities. The improved health associated with vaccinations can lead to improved cognitive development, increased educational and work goals.
In India, the introduction of childhood rotavirus vaccinations is projected to save approximately $21 million each year, according to WHO. The avoidance of treatment costs associated with diseases that are averted by widespread vaccine use is expected to save an even higher amount. Between 2011 and 2020 the projected averted treatment costs may save the country as much as $1.5 billion.
“I strongly believe in the virtues of vaccination, not only to protect the life and protect the life and health of children, but also to allow my country to have a better economic future,” President of the Republic of Mali Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta said to Gavi, while addressing the long-term economic value to vaccines in his country. “Indeed healthy children are more likely to attend schools and become economically productive adults. Vaccinating a baby benefits everyone in the long run.”
Sources: Gates Foundation, Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance 1, Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance 2, Global Citizen 1, Health Affairs, MIC, Research Gate, Science Daily, World Health Organization 1, World Health Organization 2