Thursday, 30 August 2012

Flu vaccine important to UK economy

By Joyce Tait

We may be able to give others the ‘flu, even before we know we have it – according to a new study. As such, today’s news about the infectivity of the ‘flu virus before symptoms appear, adds force to the results of Innogen’s study of the value of a ‘flu vaccine[1].

The main plank of UK contingency planning to prevent the spread of infection in the event of a severe ‘flu pandemic is that those infected should stay away from contact with others – if those infected can spread infection before showing symptoms, the effectiveness of this approach will be seriously undermined.

Working with economists, using a general equilibrium model of the UK economy, our paper focused on the impact of the case fatality rate on human behaviour, predicting that in the event of a high case fatality rate (around 2.5-5%) people would begin to stay away from work – not because they were sick, but because they were afraid of getting sick (precautionary absenteeism) – with major consequent impacts on the UK economy.

Under these circumstances, the value of a vaccine to the economy would rest on its influence on people’s behaviour by making them feel safer, more than its value in preventing infection. Given the unpredictability, but inevitability, of a ‘flu pandemic at some time in the future, we saw this as a factor justifying investment in the development of vaccines, both in the underlying science and technology and in mechanisms to deliver faster regulatory approval in an emergency.

[1] Smith R., Keogh-Brown, M, Barnett, T. and Tait, J. (2009). The Economy-Wide Impact of Pandemic Influenza on the UK: a computable general equilibrium modelling experiment. BMJ; 339: b4571.

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