Last updated February 9, 2018 at 1:04 pm
Vaccines given in 2016 to 2030 may prevent as many as 36 million deaths and 24 million cases of medical impoverishment.
A new study published in Health Affairs this month has used mathematical modelling to show the importance of vaccine programs on personal, country, and global economic levels. Angela Chang of Harvard University and co-authors estimated that up to 36 million deaths, and 24 million cases of medical impoverishment could be prevented by vaccine programs over the years 2016-2030. People experience medical impoverishment when they are reduced to poverty for medical reasons, like the expense of treatment or an inability to work.
The researchers looked at low and middle income countries, and clearly saw that the highest percentage of cases averted would be in the poorest income brackets in the lowest income countries.
Range of vaccines
The research team looked at a range of 10 vaccines including measles, hepatitis B and rubella. They used models to calculate the differences in the prevalence of risk and prognostic factors across socioeconomic strata to estimate the distribution of cases and deaths. For example, risk factors such as wasting and vitamin A deficiency were used to determine how measles deaths could be distributed, based on different prevalence rates observed across income groups.
Illness a top cause of poverty
International agencies and policymakers have long recognised that high out of-pocket health expenditures are one of the main reasons for household impoverishment. In China and India, for example, out-of-pocket spending for health services was a primary factor driving families into poverty. In 2010 the World Health Organization reported that the cost of health care prevents many of those with limited resources from seeking treatment while simultaneously pushing about 150 million care seekers into poverty each year. Reducing out-of-pocket spending for health care and providing financial risk protection is critical to preventing extreme poverty.
Limitations to study
The authors concede there are limitations to the study, including that deaths were calculated as individual deaths per disease therefore as noncompeting risks across the diseases. This means that the sum of deaths across all the diseases studied might be greater than the actual number of all-cause deaths. As well, the model did not account for herd immunity. Both of these factors could have affected the figures downwards. Conversely though, the timeliness of vaccine application was not factored into the models either, which the authors say could affect results to show even greater results amongst the lowest income quintiles.
Vaccines save lives, raise economic outcomes for countries
Even with the limitations of the study the data clearly shows that access to vaccination programs can have wide reaching benefits to the poorest countries and their inhabitants, as well as the wider world due to the economic impact, not just the personal & emotional impact on individuals and families.
Vaccines are known to have substantial health impact and to be cost-effective. In addition to highlighting these benefits, this study aimed to show not only that vaccines could have significant health and economic benefits, but also that these benefits could largely accrue among the poor. With reducing poverty and improving equity on the global development agenda, sustained investments in vaccines could make a large contribution toward achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and universal health coverage. As we move to a more socially aware world, where our neighbors overseas are a philanthropic concern as well as an economic consideration having impact on our own countries’ economies, this gives us pause to think of the world as ever shrinking in matters as these.
This research was published in Health Affairs.