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    Small Drops in Vaccination Rates Could Cause Big Increases in Health-Care Costs

    Even small decreases in the rates of childhood immunizations can result in significant cost increases to the health-care system in the United States, according to a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

    According to the results of the study, just a 5% drop in MMR vaccine coverage among children age 2 to 11 across the United States would result in a three-fold increase in the number of measles cases, leading to a total of 150 cases and increasing public sector health costs by $2.1 million.

    "Relatively small drops in vaccine coverage can cause disproportionately large increases in measles cases, outbreaks, and economic costs to the public," Nathan Lo, one of the study's authors, told Drug Topics.

    Lo, an MD/PhD candidate in the Division of Epidemiology at Stanford University School of Medicine, and his colleagues studied the economic impact of measles and the MMR vaccine to gain greater insight into the financial implications that reductions in immunizations rates can have across the country.

    This type of research is particularly important as vaccine hesitancy, the reluctance some parents have shown toward vaccination, leads more states to consider removing personal belief exemptions that allow parents to refuse vaccinations for nonmedical reasons..

    Small decreases in overall coverage can have big economic impacts because outbreaks are often occur in localized areas. "While overall national or state vaccine coverage may look high, it’s the small pockets of communities with low coverage that can result in large outbreaks.”

    The study used a mathematical model to estimate the distribution of an outbreak along with published literature to determine the economic costs. Lo said they used annual data from the CDC to determine the prevalence of measles cases for children ages 2 to 11.

    If the study had included adult and infant populations, the costs and number of measles cases would likely be even higher, further driving up costs, he added.

    The costs to the system would also be impacted if the study had considered whooping cough or mumps, which are also covered by MMR.

    He hopes that this latest study and its findings will help further illustrate the power that removing personal belief exemptions could have in reversing the decline in vaccination coverage.

    "This should be considered with the constant state-level debates on personal belief exemptions for childhood vaccination," he said.

    Jill Sederstrom
    Jill Sederstrom is a Contributing Editor

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