Immunizations and Medical Costs

There has been a lot in the news recently about immunization.  An infectious disease researcher just published a book about the myth that MMR (measles mumps rubella) vaccine causes autism. (Multiple studies have failed to show a connection, but it’s not possible to design a study that absolutely positively proves the lack of a relationship).  This issue has even been covered by  NPR’s This American Life (approximately minute 22 of broadcast) – and the emphasis has been on preventable disease suffered because parents refuse to immunize their children against contagious childhood diseases.  “Herd immunity” is most important, so when children do not receive immunizations, the risk for other children (including those too young for vaccines) increases. 


I’d like to bring up another issue – not as important as the 10 month old covered with measles pox – but important nonetheless.  There are few medical interventions that actually save money.  For instance, doing incremental mammograms is a good idea,  but each additional “quality adjusted life year”(QALY) costs about $58,000 in the health care system.   (Non-Harvard link here) 


Immunizations are the exception to this rule – one of the few medical interventions which both saves money and improves care.   It’s estimated that every $1 spent on an MMR vaccine prevents $21 in medical cost.  (Non-Harvard Link Here)

That’s not the only reason we should aggressively vaccinate our children. But in a society seeking value from the health care system, there are few value propositions as compelling as pediatric immunizations.