Immunizing more adults could save lives dollars

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LANSING — Failure to fully immunize Michigan adults has a staggering impact on job makers and the state economy, according to a new report by the Michigan Primary Care Consortium.

The report, “The Business Case for Full Adult Immunization in Michigan,” closely researched the impact of diseases such as pneumonia and influenza. The results show about $495 million in annual economic costs, including emergency room visits, specialty medical care, lost productivity and absenteeism.

According to the consortium, for every dollar spent on adult immunization, $18.40 is saved in the workplace and on hospital stays, physician visits, and more expensive and lengthy treatments for diseases that would have been easily prevented with vaccination.

Joseph Fortuna, vice president of the consortium, said vaccine-preventable diseases like pneumonia and the flu continue to ravage adults across the state.

“It results in the need for expensive treatment and hospital visits while driving down workplace productivity. Adult immunizations can save lives and boost the economy, but only if they are used,” Fortuna said.

The report shows that in Michigan annually, direct costs including unnecessary emergency room and physician visits cost more than $245 million. Lost productivity, missed work days and other indirect costs account for nearly $250 million.

According to Fortuna, the consortium conducts training for health care professionals, business and industry leaders and government officials on strategies to increase adult immunization.

“It is a cultural failure. We think that vaccination is important only for children, but adult immunization is equally important, and something government, physicians, health advocates and providers need to set as priority,” he said.

Michigan doesn’t have a specific adult immunization infrastructure similar to its Vaccine for Children program, according to the Department of Community Health.

“We need to pay greater attention to emphasize the importance of adult immunization. Health care providers need to use best ways to try to demonstrate the economic and health impact of vaccination for their patients,” Fortuna said.

According to Angela Minicuci, public information officer at Community Health, lack of public awareness and providers’ recommendations for vaccinations result in many missed opportunities.

“Adults simply aren’t aware of the vaccines that they need to stay healthy. Most specialists who are not primary care providers don’t always communicate the importance of receiving immunization during the patient’s routine visits,” Minicuci said.

In addition, some adults know about vaccinations but believe that the vaccines can harm their health. Russell Bush, medical director of the Lapeer County Health Department, said misinformation about vaccines occurs due to lack of education.

“There is not enough of a marketing campaign on adult immunization. The cases that record side effects as a result of vaccination don’t mean immunization is not useful,” he said.

“We need to educate people on the benefits of preventive vaccines,” Bush said.

Bush recommends that every adult receive vaccinations that protect them from diseases such as pneumonia, influenza, whooping cough, tetanus and hepatitis.

His agency conducted marketing campaigns for adult immunizations until 2008, but the program stopped due to lack of funding.

Bush said the state should concentrate more on increasing funding for health marketing campaigns and making vaccines more available.

“We need to provide education and accessible, cost-effective vaccine to adults as best we can and hope they can make a rational choice if they need it or not,” he said.

Lack of insurance coverage is also a barrier to immunization, according to Community Health.

Suzette Daly, a nurse at the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, said the insurance deductable for vaccinations is high, and some people think it is not worth it.

“Insurance companies should work a better way to provide access to adult vaccination. It can save money, both for the companies and their clients,” she said.

In 2009, medical officers at the agency noticed a rapid increase of whooping cough among adults and a few cases in children who were directly exposed by adults. They provided vaccine to health providers and conducted education and training for the community and, by 2012, significantly reduced the number of sick people.

According to Daly, her agency constantly conducts a marketing campaign on adult immunization.

“Vaccination is the best investment in our health. I encourage our state health agencies, insurance companies, local health care providers and communities to work together to make the vaccines available for everyone and to build strategies to overcome barriers for adult immunization,” Daly said.

Currently, Community Health provides a limited amount of vaccine for adults 19 and older who have no insurance or whose insurance doesn’t cover any cost of the vaccine.

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