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The Money Behind The Flu Vaccine

 

By Anthony Advincula, New America Media

CHICAGO — Flu shots not only protect lives but also generate significant economic benefits, saving the U.S. federal government billions of dollars in medical costs, according to health officials here.

By improving the vaccination rate among high-risk individuals, including children and adults, government spending on costly yet entirely preventable diseases can be reduced by more than half each year, which would help the country’s economic recovery.

“If we get vaccinated, we protect ourselves from any flu-related complications. That means we don’t end up in a hospital — and we don’t hurt our medical system,” Teresa Niño, director for Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said at a recent press briefing with ethnic media at DePaul University, in downtown Chicago.

Niño’s view on the economic impact of vaccination was backed by a cost-benefit analysis report conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) early this year.

For every dollar the government spent on flu vaccine, it saved $6.30 in direct medical costs, with an aggregate savings of $10.5 billion, the CDC report finds. If indirect medical costs to society — such as losses due to missed work, death or disability — are added, the CDC says that every flu shot saves $18.40, reaching a total savings of $42 billion.

“It’s unbelievable. That savings can be allocated for other social projects that we all can enjoy,” Niño added. “Of course, the biggest benefit of getting the vaccine is that we'll have healthy lives. Who would want to get sick these days?”

In 2009, Chicago had 914 confirmed H1N1-associated hospitalizations. Of this number, 42 percent occurred among blacks and 38 percent among Hispanics. The number of cases among Asians was also higher than that of whites.

Additionally, the areas in metropolitan Chicago with the highest estimated rates of flu pandemic-associated hospitalization were immigrant and ethnic communities, including East and West Garfield Park, North Lawndale, and Lower West Side.

Challenged by last year’s H1N1 pandemic, the health department here has intensified the campaign to increase the vaccination rate. There are now 764 healthcare facilities, retail pharmacies and mass immunizers registered with Chicago’s public health department that received direct shipment of H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines.

Announcements that remind travelers about getting vaccinated can also be heard at O’Hare International Airport even past midnight. And posters about the benefits of the flu vaccine can be seen on trains and buses.

But health officials admitted that there is room for improvement to encourage a majority of the population, particularly in minority neighborhoods, to get the vaccine.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Dr. Julie Morita, medical director of Chicago’s Department of Public Health.

Aware of the many vaccination myths that seem to mutate into different versions and circulate around communities, Morita noted that it has been a tremendous challenge for heath agencies to educate people about the vaccine.

“Our message is clear: It’s truly safe to get it. It’s not a live virus that will be injected into their bodies,” she said. “The vaccine is the only way to get themselves protected.”

Maleeka Glover, an epidemiologist and senior research scientist for the CDC, said in an interview after the press briefing that every person in the United States should realize that the government is doing its best to help curb the flu virus from spreading — and not to harm people.

“If the majority of us gets vaccinated, we’re helping ourselves, our families, our communities, and we’re helping our government back,” she said. “The benefits are directly going to us and our society.”


STORY TAGS: BLACK, AFRICAN AMERICAN, MINORITY, CIVIL RIGHTS, DISCRIMINATION, RACISM, , RACIAL EQUALITY, BIAS, EQUALITY, culture, , HISPANIC, LATINO, MEXICAN, MINORITY, CIVIL RIGHTS, DISCRIMINATION, RACISM, DIVERSITY, LATINA, RACIAL EQUALITY, BIAS, EQUALITY

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