As a father to a fantastic son who is immunosuppressed, I have been active in researching the best ways to treat the condition. This includes everything from plasma infusions, to natural medicines, to special dieting and exercise. He is doing very well as a result of our efforts. Unfortunately, he will always be dependent on the management of herd immunity within a community.
I’m very concerned with the increase in the number children attending Arizona schools who are not vaccinated. But, beyond posing a threat to the community-based protection many people need, as an economist I recognize the cost implications that accompany the decision to avoid vaccines.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has released their list of the top 10 threats to global health and among factors like famine, war, and drought is “vaccine hesitancy.” In common terms, that means delaying, or refusing, readily available vaccines. The “anti-vax” movement is largely responsible for this phenomenon that has also created a societal response.
Is there an unseen economic consequence of immunization non-compliance or, as the WHO would say – vaccine hesitancy? The answer is yes.
According to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control, the percentage of unvaccinated babies and toddlers in America has quadrupled since 2001. How many children does that represent? In 2015 the National Immunization Survey reported only 72.2 percent of children aged 19-35 months were fully vaccinated according to the CDC schedule. Almost 30 percent of America’s children, 3 out of every 10, were not receiving life-saving vaccines and in 2018 Arizona took the prize for having the most unvaccinated kindergarten children in our nation.
The anti-vax movement is obviously growing, despite the CDC estimates that among children born in the last 20 years, vaccinations prevented more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths. This statistic makes it clear, the anti-vax movement has become more than a public health issue. It’s an economic one of sizeable scale.
The American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a study on children born in 2009, to detect the economic impact of failure to properly immunize children against nine dangerous vaccine preventable diseases. What the study revealed was that routine childhood immunization would prevent approximately 42,000 early deaths and 20 million cases of disease in just that group of children.
Preventing 42,000 early deaths in American children born in 2009 – that number is staggering. There is no price to be associated with the precious life of a child. There is no way to measure the loss to a family or of the unfulfilled potential of every single baby born. Think about 20 million cases of disease in children. The potential losses for the sick child range from missed learning due to school absences to loss of hearing, sight, resulting disabilities, and sadly death.
The study examined the further economic impact of vaccinations. In the study group of only children born in 2009, compliance with the recommended vaccine schedule would represent $13.5 billion savings in costs for direct treatment and $68.8 billion in total cost to society.
The number of children entering Arizona schools missing vaccines, or completely unvaccinated, is growing with Maricopa County falling below the levels needed for herd immunity among kindergarten students in 2018. Logic tells us the economic impact will grow accordingly with the number of early deaths and cases of disease.
Colorado, which ranks 23rd in the nation compared to Arizona’s number one status in childhood vaccination rates, spent $55 million on vaccine-preventable diseases in 2017 according to a study released recently by the Children’s Hospital Colorado. The cost of the scientifically disproven anti-vax movement has reached the point of bringing serious community health concerns into the public dialogue, and the economic impact should not be ignored in those discussions.
The above statistics are based on today’s vaccination compliance rates. If things worsen exponentially, and they could, the values will become much larger, and in a short period of time.
Jim Rounds is President of Rounds Consulting Group.