October 24th, 2016


Let’s get real: If you don’t get a flu vaccine and you get the flu, you’re going to get pretty sick. Not “my-nose-is-stuffy-but-I-can-go-to-work” sick; not “I-was-up-all-night-coughing-but-I’ll-be-okay” sick. No, it will be much worse than that. Influenza hits pretty quick and pretty hard. Think of the flu as the worst possible cold you can imagine, with severe nasal congestion and discharge, a bad and frequent cough, sore throat, headache, body aches, and high fever. If you throw up, it’s because you are feeling so crummy. (The “stomach flu” isn’t really the flu at all; that’s another virus not called “influenza.”) These severe symptoms hold on for 5-7 days before they begin to abate. Suffice it to say, if you get the flu, you’ll miss at least a week of work or school. The multi-faceted impact of flu on your health is one thing. The multi-billion dollar impact on the economy, says Lydia Ramsey, is quite another:

A new study out from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill modeled just how much unvaccinated adults cost the US economy (either in healthcare costs or in loss of productivity).

The researchers found that the overall cost of 10 vaccine-preventable diseases was $8.95 billion in 2015. Those who weren’t vaccinated accounted for 80% of that (about $7.1 billion).

The flu alone accounted for $5.8 billion of the costs. The next costliest disease was pneumonia, which cost the health system $1.86 billion in 2015.


Most of the costs attributable to influenza come from complications that require a visit to the emergency department or admission to the hospital. Still, outpatient health care costs for influenza are nothing to sneeze at. In fact, the study’s authors seem to be saying that when one person sneezes, we all get sick:

Vaccines save thousands of lives in the United States every year, but many adults remain unvaccinated. Low rates of vaccine uptake lead to costs to individuals and society in terms of deaths and disabilities, which are avoidable, and they create economic losses from doctor visits, hospitalizations, and lost income… These results not only indicate the potential economic benefit of increasing adult immunization uptake but also highlight the value of vaccines. Policies should focus on minimizing the negative externalities or spillover effects from the choice not to be vaccinated, while preserving patient autonomy.


It’s not too late to get your flu shot. You’ll be protecting yourself, those you love, and those you’ve never met from a very nasty infection. Parents: call your doctor or get to a pharmacy for a flu shot. Call our offices to set up a time to vaccinate your kids. It’s almost November, so don’t delay any longer.


2 Responses to Costs Of Not Vaccinating vs. Flu

  1. One thing I don’t understand is that many parents who are perfectly fine with – even greatly in favor of – all other childhood immunizations still take issue with the flu shot. I wonder why?

  2. I tell parents that the flu is like having strep, croup, and gastroenteritis—all at the same time. But I think parents are reticent about flu vaccination because they see the illness as inconsequential to individuals without risk factors and a low-priority health measure. It generally takes experience with a severe illness personally for one to see the light. That is why I endorse mass community flu vaccination projects (similar to the Sabin Sundays for oral polio vaccine distribution as in days gone by) in order to get all the folks thinking collectively—-on the same page.


    Ned Ketyer, M.D.

    Ned Ketyer, M.D.

    Dr. Ketyer has special interests in developmental pediatrics and preventative medicine, specifically how nutrition and the environment affect health. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont and his medical degree from Northwestern University Medical School. He completed his residency at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

    As one of the founding physicians of Pediatric Alliance, PC, Dr. Ketyer served as its president from 1997-2004. He has been practicing general pediatrics at Pediatric Alliance since 1990. Dr. Ketyer and his wife have three boys and live in Pittsburgh's South Hills. 

  • Note: The information included in these posts is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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