Flu vaccine shortage may cost businesses billions
October 21, 2004
WASHINGTON – This year’s flu vaccine shortage could cost the nation up to $20 billion in lost productivity – almost twice as much as in a typical year – depending on the severity of the outbreak, according to one estimate.
The average worker misses about 1 to 1.5 days a year because of the flu, said David Cutler, a health economist at Harvard. That absenteeism rate could double because of scant flu vaccine supplies this year.
“There’s an enormous margin of error: how bad the flu will be,” Cutler said of his estimate. “That’s where the real uncertainty is.”
One vaccine expert says early indications – and milder flu outbreaks in Australia and New Zealand – suggest this flu season in America could be mild.
The most recent statistics from the CDC indicate low flu activity in seven states.
“It’s not ‘We’re getting ready to close the school down, there are so many cases,’ ” Dr. Greg Poland said of the sporadic reports. Poland is director of the Mayo Clinic’s vaccine research group and one of the government’s vaccine experts. The dominant virus strain, so far, is contained in this year’s vaccine and sickened up to 30 percent of Americans last year, providing some carry-over immunity. Poland cautioned that the nation is just beginning the flu season, which most often peaks in January or later.