During flu season, organizations and individuals justifiably focus on vaccinations as a “first line of defense” to reduce health impacts, but a new study led by California State University, Dominguez Hills public policy professor, Fynnwin Prager, shows that the health of the economy during an influenza outbreak requires just as much attention.
The study, “Total Economic Consequences of an Influenza Outbreak,” by Prager and his colleagues at the University of Southern California (USC) Sol Price School of Public Policy, Dan Wei and Adam Rose, found that depending on how the public, businesses, and government organizations respond to it, an influenza pandemic in the United States could have a more profound impact on the economy; nearly double the amount previously thought. The study has been published online in Risk Analysis, a publication of the Society for Risk Analysis.
Prager and his colleagues analyzed the total economic impact of potential influenza outbreaks in the U.S using a unique and “advanced methodology,” also applicable to the Zika virus and other biothreats, to draw distinctions between disease severities and the presence and absence of vaccinations. They also examined infection avoidance and economic resilience, which includes recapturing lost work production.
Resilience is very important. Recovering from lost work and the ability to offer flexible working conditions, such as telecommuting or working from home, will drastically change the effects of outbreaks on the economy,” said Prager. “The small things that occur at work and in people’s daily lives can really add up during an outbreak.”
The study shows that when not factoring in avoidance and resilience effects, the pandemic scenario could result in a U.S. GDP loss of $25.4 billion; vaccination could reduce the losses to $19.9 billion. But when avoidance and resilience are taken into account, a pandemic influenza outbreak could result in GDP losses of $45.3 billion without vaccination and $34.4 billion with vaccination.
The study also focused on how economic impacts are significantly worsened by various types of behavioral reactions and over-reactions by the public, such as avoidance of events, public transportation, and the imposition of such measures as quarantines and travel bans.
“People travel less during pandemics. Airports and tourism destinations—both domestic and international—are particularly avoided, as well as restaurants and other spaces where people gather,” said Prager. “Those behavioral changes do add up to significant economic impacts, and we have a lot of good data in our study to support that. But there’s still a lot more research to be done to better understand how people are responding to different disasters, threats, and outbreaks.”
The study offers a number of steps that government policy makers and public health officials can use to reduce potential economic losses from outbreaks, including public messaging and information campaigns to counter avoidance behaviors.
The study was conducted as part of an effort by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National Biosurveillance Integration Center (NBIC) to strengthen its decision-support capabilities. It was funded by a contract with USC’s Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, a DHS Science and Technology Center of Excellence, with which Prager is affiliated.