This year, Knox County Health Department is facing the very real problem of finding ways to sustain the in-school flu vaccination program. Unexpected funding changes at the federal and state levels have increased KCHD's vaccination costs and - simply put -covering the costs for the in-school immunization against influenza will be a struggle. Public health officials are exploring several options to help underwrite costs, such as billing private insurance, corporate sponsorships and public donations.
Knox County's School-located Influenza Vaccination Clinics (commonly known as the FluMist program) have successfully reduced the amount of flu in the community over the last seven years. Studies have shown - and this community's experience has borne out - that vaccinating children against influenza keeps them healthy and has a ripple effect through the community that protects young and old alike. Since the inception of the school flu vaccination program eight years ago, only one Knox County school has closed due to flu, and that was in the early days of the H1N1 pandemic due to CDC protocol which was later changed.
This year, KCHD is again partnering with ZippSlip to provide online consent forms. Parents will see some changes this year in the consent process: 1) a place to provide insurance information to help recoup vaccine costs and 2) a way to underwrite flu vaccination through PayPal for a child whose family can’t afford it.
"The average cost per student is $15.75," said Dr. Martha Buchanan, KCHD director. "It has proven to be a very low-cost and convenient way to keep children and their entire families healthy."
Without the in-school program, the other option would include making a doctor appointment or visiting a clinic, taking time off work to go, drive time and gas to get there, plus a possible fee or insurance co-pay. Leaving the child unvaccinated and unprotected could potentially cost a family $130 just for the doctor and prescription – and that’s just the beginning. The cost of flu skyrockets when other factors such as lost wages (averages $135 per day and the flu lasts five to seven days), additional sick family members who compound the medical/lost wages figures ($130 + $135 X 5-7 days/per person). Even if your child isn’t sick, if school closes because of flu, there are costs for caregivers or lost wages for staying home with the kids. And if a grandparent or young child gets the flu, there is the very real possibility of hospitalization and even death.
"It’s a simple concept - keep individual children healthy, which is very important," said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. "But there are benefits for our whole community. Our local economy can avoid the burden of illness that causes lost wages, productivity and efficiency simply by preventing flu in children and their families."
Flu immunization not only prevents the flu, but reduces overall respiratory illness rates, lost works days and doctor visits. Overall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, having a flu vaccination saves every person $47, three times the cost of getting your child vaccinated at school. The average person loses $92 a year in wages from sick days. Every year, the flu causes American workers to miss up to 70 million workdays, or the lifetime work of 6,137 American workers.
Knox County's in-school influenza vaccination program began in 2004 and was underwritten through a grant from MedImmune, the makers of FluMist, an intranasal flu vaccine which requires no needles. Through careful resource management, public health officials were able to utilize the MedImmune money for more than one year. After that, KCHD leveraged federal and state vaccination programs which provided free vaccine for children to keep the program viable. Suddenly last spring, the federal and state programs which had provided the free vaccine were greatly reduced, leaving the program’s future in jeopardy.