Swine flu vaccination program – is it worth it?

One might ask oneself if the public vaccination program in Sweden (and in many other countries) is worth the costs of it. Of course, this is not an easy question, as many parameters plays a role in this decision. How important is the saving of lives, how severe is the side effects, how much is an individual person’s health worth, etc. On a global scale we have to wait a year or more until the pandemic is over, or at least until next Spring, before we can draw any conclusions on if the vaccination program has been effective enough, or if it was necessary at all. However, as the spreading of the disease has increased dramatically over the last weeks e.g. in Ukraine, but also in Sweden, the importance of the vaccination program and that the government has acted fast has been painfully underscored. However, my purpose of this article is not to discuss the vaccine itself, nor the side effects, or anything else related to the vaccine. Instead, I am aiming for if the costs of the program in real numbers will payback for the government, and thus the Swedish economy.

Simply put, I will just do my math homework using the swine flu statistics. I will make the following assumptions:

  • If nobody was vaccinated, 10% of the Swedish people would suffer from the swine flu. This seems to be a rather safe expectation, it is more likely that much more than 10% will be sick without any vaccinations, but let’s keep the numbers within safe margins.
  • None of these people will die or require more complicated medical care. We already know that this statement is untrue. However, this assumption makes the math much easier. Also, if people require more complicated care, the costs would go up, not down, so just keep in mind that my expectations are (again) set too low.
  • A typical influenza victim needs to stay home from work for two weeks, and is then fully recovered. Let’s just assume that people are smart and stay home until they don’t carry the disease anymore.
  • The estimated costs of the vaccination program are 3 billion swedish kronor (about 430 million USD). This is based on an estimation made in August by Sveriges Kommuner och Landsting (SKL). The real costs for the program will not be known until some time next year. Of these 3 billions, 1.3 billions is the actual cost of the vaccine – the rest is administrative costs, according to Göran Stiernstedt at SKL.

Given these assumptions, how much would it cost not to run a vaccination program in Sweden? Well, Sweden’s GDP (Gross domestic product) was estimated to be $348.6 billion in 2008, that is about 2,437 billion Swedish kronor. So, if 10% of the population gets sick and stays home from work for two weeks that means that the loss in GDP would be (approximately):

0.10 * 2/52 * 2,437,000,000,000 kronor ≈ 9,373,000,000 kronor

So, for these low expectations I made above, Sweden would still loss about 9 billion kronor just from people not coming to work. That’s a lot of money compared to the estimated cost of three billions. And still, we have not included the increased costs of medical care into our figures. As an additional note: Swedish tax revenue is almost 50%, which means that almost 4.5 of these 9 billions will end up in the government’s hands. In that perspective, the invested three billions seem to be well-used money.

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