Universal flu shot programs make economic sense

Study concludes that universality 'reduces influenza illness attack rates, morbidity and mortality at reasonable cost' to taxpayers.

Toronto (12 April 2010) - Offering immunization to the entire population prevents more than 60% of flu cases and the practice makes more economic sense than singling out high risk groups for protection, concludes a new study by the University Health Network in Toronto.

“Compared to a targeted influenza immunization program, the universal program reduces influenza illness attack rates, morbidity and mortality at reasonable cost to the taxpayer,” Beate Sander, a researcher in the network's division of clinical decision making and health care research, told the Toronto Globe and Mail.

The research was published this week in the journal Public Library of Science Medicine. It examined data from Ontario, which began offering flu vaccine free-of-charge to all residents in 2000.

Overall, the study found that the additional costs of offering immunization to everyone are offset by the savings that result from fewer people getting sick and seeking medical attention for flu symptoms.

On average, the researchers found that the universal program prevented:

  • Almost 35,000 cases of the flu, or about 61% of the total each season.
  • 111 deaths, a 28% reduction in mortality.
  • 786 influenza-related hospitalizations, a 46% drop.
  • 7,745 emergency room visits for flu treatment, or 61% fewer visits.
  • More than 30,000 visits to doctors for treatment, also a 61% drop.

Overall, the universal program cut treatment costs by just over half, the researchers found. To date, Ontario is the only province that has a universal seasonal flu vaccine program. (By contrast, every jurisdiction offered H1N1 influenza vaccine to its residents.)

While Ontario’s program is universal, only 42% of the province's population actually gets immunized. In other provinces, which tend to offer the vaccine to those over 65 and those with respiratory illnesses, the vaccination rate is 28% per cent, according to the research.


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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