Current influenza vaccination strategies primarily focus on the most vulnerable populations. While this is crucial, recent studies suggest that a broader approach, including vaccinating young and healthy individuals, could yield significant health and economic benefits. This article delves into the potential impacts of such a strategy in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, highlighting the importance of achieving ‘herd immunity’.
Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient portion of the population is vaccinated, significantly reducing the likelihood of disease transmission. This not only protects those who are vaccinated, but also those who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons.
According to the NSW Productivity Commission, the below points are the potential outcomes of reaching herd immunity through increased vaccination among the young and healthy. This includes:
- Economic Efficiency: Every additional person under 65 getting vaccinated could deliver at least $210 worth of net benefits to NSW.
- Reduction in Work Hours Lost: NSW currently faces up to eight million work hours lost annually due to flu-related illnesses.
- Healthcare Impact: Over 7,000 hospitalisations and nearly 100,000 GP consultations could be avoided, improving healthcare efficiency.
- Enhanced Quality of Life: Up to 4,000 healthy life years could be regained by preventing flu-related health issues.
To reach herd immunity, NSW would need to vaccinate two million additional individuals under 65. This could result in benefits ranging from $500 million to $1.3 billion annually. Achieving this requires addressing various challenges, such as vaccine accessibility and public perception.
The path to increasing vaccine uptake is complex and requires national collaboration. It involves strengthening the evidence through local infectious disease modelling, considering national funding arrangements, and identifying effective strategies to boost vaccination among priority cohorts.
Expanding influenza vaccination to include more young and healthy individuals in NSW not only has the potential to protect these populations, but also to significantly reduce the burden on the healthcare system and enhance economic productivity. By reaching herd immunity, NSW can set a precedent for a more comprehensive and effective approach to managing influenza outbreaks.