Universal flu vaccinations a cost-effective strategy, Canadian researchers find

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An initiative in one Canadian province to provide everyone aged six months and older with a free flu shot not only reduces influenza-related illnesses and deaths, but is “economically attractive,” according to a recent analysis.

Most Canadian provinces provide free vaccines to targeted at-risk populations—primarily seniors aged 65 and older, those with chronic medical conditions or health care workers. In 2000, Ontario began offering free flu jabs to everyone. Researchers at the University of Toronto evaluated the costs and outcomes associated with the Ontario universal vaccination scheme.

Between 1997 and 2004, cases of influenza infection in Ontario fell by 61%, while flue-related deaths decreased by 28%, according to the analysis. Though the program costs twice as much as other programs, 39% of those costs were offset by related savings elsewhere in the healthcare system, making it sufficiently cost-effective, researchers concluded. But researchers point out that it is mostly because of Canada's unique one-payer healthcare system that such savings can be accrued. The report was published this week in PLoS Medicine.