THE STATE’S decision to cut the number of free flu vaccines offered this year by half is short-sighted to an extreme. The total economic cost of influenza every year in the United States is $87.1 billion, with billions in lost productivity in Massachusetts. Cutting vaccinations would only add to those losses - all to save about $1 million.
The arguments advanced by the state to justify this savings - which is spurred by a similarly misguided cut in federal aid for vaccines - is that most people do not need free vaccinations because they already have health insurance coverage. This is true, but still leaves some without coverage for flu shots. Further, hesitancy to go to a doctor - not to mention the hassle involved with making an appointment - means even many people with coverage don’t get vaccinated.
Those with health insurance coverage should certainly be urged to take advantage of it to receive flu shots, but what’s most important is guaranteeing as many people as possible get vaccinated to prevent the disease from spreading. Investment in free vaccination saves lives and greatly reduces the economic toll of the flu in terms of lost hours of productivity, income, and sales. Tough economic times only make it more important for the state to be sure that its budgetary priorities provide the broadest benefit for the greatest numbers of people.