Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Financial Repercussions of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

By Emily BoldtPublished November 21, 2019

Roosevelt Institute
Examines the financial burden of the anti-vaccine movement, and the tremendous return on investment of vaccines.

        Living in a nation brimming with technology, innovation, and wealth, it is easy to take things for granted—including our health. Modern medicine and research have drastically increased the quality and longevity of life. Take, for instance, one of the greatest public-health triumphs: the widespread use of vaccines. Thanks to vaccines, catastrophic diseases such as smallpox, polio, and measles have been nearly eradicated in the world. 

        So why, after years of preventable diseases being controlled through vaccinations, are we hearing about an increasing number of measles outbreaks? According to the New York Times, measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000. But in late 2014 and early 2015, a measles outbreak occurred in two Disneyland parks, resulting in over 100 confirmed cases. Just in the first half of 2019, there have been over 980 measles cases, the largest number seen in 25 years. 

        This spike can be attributed directly to the currently trending anti-vaccine movement. The entire anti-vaccine movement centers on a belief that vaccines cause autism. Despite significant research, there has never been a study that has shown a link between autism and vaccines. In fact, many studies indicate that there is absolutely no link whatsoever between vaccines and autism. This movement is particularly dangerous to the vulnerable population of people with weakened immune systems which comprises nearly 3% of adults in the U.S., including as those with cancer or AIDS. These people can be protected, though, if we as a nation respect the concept of herd immunity, which requires all people to be vaccinated if they are medically able. This way, even if an individual in a community does contract a disease, it cannot spread as easily, preventing larger outbreaks and possibly eradicating the disease in the region . As for those who cite religious reasons for not vaccinating, it is nearly impossible to find a religion with a clearly articulated anti-vaccine doctrine. 

        Besides the obvious health implications of contracting these completely preventable diseases, there is also a significant financial aspect to the issue. According to Health Affairs, the economic burden of vaccine preventable diseases in 2015 was approximately $9 billion,calculated based on the economic losses due to costs of preventable deaths, disabilities, and economic losses from doctor visits, hospitalizations, and lost income. This statistic demonstrates the economic value of vaccines. This calculation is only a lower bound, though, because every year, 3 million lives that might otherwise have been lost are saved thanks to vaccines, and you cannot put a dollar value on a life. 

        Research has also demonstrated the integral role that health plays in driving economic growth. An improvement in a population’s health has a positive impact on societal well-being by enabling longer working lives, higher productivity, and improved educational outcomes, as well as reducing healthcare costs. While the immediate financial benefits of vaccines are important, the potential for economic growth is far more important. Take, for instance, healthy, vaccinated children: they are more able to participate in education, preparing them to become healthy, contributing adults. When considering adults, vaccination reduces the need for sick leave, increases their productivity, and promotes healthy aging in older adults. Thus, beyond the direct impact of vaccinations on health and healthcare, macroeconomically, there is a much wider impact on economic growth.  

        Prevention is the easiest way to maintain and improve health, so the use of vaccines should be encouraged. Not only do vaccines improve and maintain health, but they also do it in an incredibly cost effective manner. Vaccines are especially important when the rising cost of healthcare is considered.  A recent study in the United States estimated that for every single dollar spent on childhood vaccinations, the US could save $3 from a taxpayer perspective and $10 from a societal perspective. When examining the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine individually, for every dollar spent on the vaccine, over $21 was saved in direct medical costs—from 1989 to 1991 alone, $100 million was directly saved from preventing outbreaks. Vaccination should be viewed as a relatively small investment, with intangible health benefits that reach into numerous aspects of society. The return on investment of vaccines are tremendous, especially when a majority of healthcare interventions are not cost-saving. 

Works Cited