Medicine and Economics: Accounting for the full benefits of childhood vaccination in South Africa
While remarkable gains in health have been achieved since the mid-20th century, these have been unequally distributed, and mortality and morbidity burdens in some regions remain enormous. Of the almost 10 million children under 5 years of age who died in 2006, only 100 000 died in industrialised countries, while 4.8 million died in sub-Saharan Africa.1 In deciding whether to finance an intervention, policy makers commonly weigh the expected population health gains against its costs. Most vaccinations included in national immunisation schedules are inexpensive2 and health gains to costs are very favourable compared with other health interventions. Newer vaccinations, such as those with pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) or rotavirus vaccine, are also effective in averting child mortality and morbidity but are expensive relative to those commonly included in national immunisation schedules. Policy makers may therefore decide that – at current prices – the comparison of health gains with costs does not justify the free public provision of these vaccinations. The authors of this paper argue that in addition to the health benefits of vaccinations, their effects on education and income3 and benefits for unvaccinated community members are considerable and should be included in calculations to establish their value.
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