Many people are skeptical about getting an annual flu vaccine because they feel they are healthy and won't get the flu. Often stories are told about how the flu shot gave someone the flu or how it simply does not work. After all, it is an educated calculation on which influenza virus will be most prevalent during the flu season, so getting the shot doesn't protect people 100%. It does, however, significantly reduce the risk of contracting the virus and if you've ever had the flu you can attest to how awful this virus can make you feel. The following will review some of the costs associated with skipping the flu shot.
Cost of a Flu Vaccine
The flu spreads very rapidly from person to person and can even affect animals. Once someone in your household gets the flu chances are someone else will contract the disease. The most effective preventative measure you can take is getting a flu vaccine. Unlike in the past, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended anyone over 6 months of age get the seasonal flu vaccine. The reason for the change is the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) “wanted to protect as many people as possible against the flu” (CDC, 2011). With rapidly moving viruses entire communities can be affected quickly.
With proper prevention the number of people contracting the virus and becoming ill can drastically be reduced. This reduction can decrease the number of hospitalizations, missed days of work, and complications associated with the flu including death. All of these reductions save money and time for everyone involved from health care programs to private companies and individuals.
The cost of getting a flu shot varies from free, in some cases, to around $45 and is often covered by health insurance. The vaccine is readily available from local health departments, physicians, and drug stores such as Walgreens or CVS. This cost is trivial when compared to the cost of getting the flu.
Cost of Getting the Flu
The flu virus is known to last over a week in many cases if left untreated. Being sick and contagious can equate to lost time at work, school, or other commitments. Often people will not realize they have the flu until it hits them like a train. Suddenly the individual will not feel well.
Since the flu is a contagious respiratory illness individuals carrying the virus will begin to spread the disease to others without warning. Coughing, headache, body aches, high fever, chills, runny or stuffy nose, fatigue, and even some vomiting and diarrhea are classic indications someone has the flu. The flu feels different than most other common viral diseases and should be taken seriously as it can lead to more serious conditions such as ear infections, pneumonia, bronchitis, and asthma attacks.
If you choose not to get a flu shot then you leave yourself open to contracting the flu even if you are otherwise a healthy individual. Here are a few items to consider when calculating the true cost of the flu:
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- Time off from work: Cost varies depending on if the individual has enough sick leave and income level; could mean no pay for someone without sick leave or not enough available days to last the duration of the flu (5-14 days). This also costs the company since the employee is not at work and someone else may have to fill in costing the company overtime pay.
- Doctor Visits: Without insurance someone could pay more than $100 to see a physician. With insurance the cost can be reduced depending on a co-pay or deductible to be met for the year.
- Prescription Medicine: If the flu is caught early enough a doctor may recommend an anti-viral medication. The medicines are manufactured under Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Sznamivir (Relenza) and are only given within the first 48 hours of the flu. Depending on your medical insurance this may be considered a covered medicine and would cost around $30-40. If you do not have medical insurance or this is a drug on your non formulary list and is not covered by insurance you will pay around $100 for the prescription.
- OTC Medicine: Getting a prescription for Tamiflu may not be the only thing used to help treat the symptoms of the flu since it only relieves some of the symptoms and severity of the virus. Individuals may incur the cost of over-the-counter (OTC) medication as well. This can vary from $5 for a bottle of Tylenol to $60-$80 depending on how severe the flu symptoms are and the physical condition of the individual. This cost would include tissues, NyQuil/DayQuil, cough medications, Theraflu remedies, cough drops, lip balm, drinks such as Gatorade to help hydrate, and other items needed to help relieve some of the severe symptoms of the flu.
- Others involved: The cost of care can be extremely high. If you live alone you may need someone to come help take care of you. This could be someone you hire such as a home nurse or a relative that is required to take time off from their job or travel to be with you.
- Hospitalization: According to the CDC, on average more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal influenza-related complications each year (CDC, 2011). Being hospitalized can increase the cost of the flu enormously. Most insurances only cover a certain percentage of the cost of being hospitalized or co-pays and/or deductibles need to be met before coverage begins. This cost can range from $100 up to more than $5,000 for a stay in the hospital. This does not include the cost incurred by the insurance or the cost incurred by other individuals tending to you while in the hospital (family members or friends). If you don't have insurance then some states have laws requiring care be provided where the cost is passed on to others in your community, state, or the federal government (tax payers).
The true cost of getting the flu will vary from one individual's circumstance to another, but is often far greater than the cost of getting a seasonal flu vaccine. With the estimations given above, an individual can expect to pay at a minimum of $130 to see a doctor and get medicine to feel better (4 times more than the cost of getting a flu shot). This doesn't include the cost of missing work or any other cost associated with getting ill. Next time you think about not getting a flu shot you may want to consider the true cost of the flu.