Stanford researcher shows flu shot benefits outweigh costs in healthy young adults

STANFORD, Calif. - Flu shots can save lives, especially among the elderly who account for most of the 20,000 flu-related deaths in the United States each year. But physicians have debated whether vaccinating healthy, younger adults is worth the time and money. The answer is yes, according to a new study based on a computer model. The study was led by Patrick Lee, MD, a resident in internal medicine at Stanford Hospital & Clinics.

"There's been a lot of debate about optimal treatment strategies," Lee said. "Our study shows that society as a whole benefits if you vaccinate the entire population and use antiviral medications on those who get sick."

Influenza, a viral disease characterized by nasal congestion, dry cough and fever, affects 10 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population each year, with an average of 2.8 work days lost per ill individual. Although anyone can get a flu shot, the Centers for Disease Control recommend vaccination only for specific groups, including the elderly, those with weakened immune systems and health-care workers. Most healthy adults choose not to get flu shots.

In the study, published in the Aug. 20 issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, Lee and colleagues gathered previously published data on the costs and benefits of flu vaccination and treatment of flu patients with antiviral medication in healthy adults ages 18 to 50. These included costs of the vaccine and drugs, lost work time due to illness and duration of symptom relief from antiviral medications. They also surveyed 210 patients at a family practice clinic about their willingness to pay for flu symptom relief and medication without side effects.

The researchers entered this information into a computer model that subtracted the costs from the benefits to yield a net benefit or cost. They ran the model 1,000 times while systematically changing the data within known limits. For example, the cost

Contact: Amy Adams
Stanford University Medical Center

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