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.
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.