Lost time: Productivity and the flu

People standing in front of a graph to indicate Lost time: Productivity and the flu

A new report into productivity and the flu, published by the International Longevity Centre UK (ILC), finds that the flu cost better off countries £30bn in lost working days in 2018.

Analysis by ILC, the UK’s specialist think tank on the impact of longevity on society, suggests that in better off countries, over 90 million people aged 50 and over get the flu each year. Among those aged 50-64, the flu cost around 159 million working days in 2018, the economic impact of which is equivalent to $39 billion (or £30 billion), finds the ILC report.

However, despite the economic and social benefits from preventing flu, and the strong evidence of the efficacy of vaccinations, flu vaccination rates among people aged 65+ continue to fall across the OECD, from 49% in 2005 to 43% in 2015.

As part of its Prevention in an ageing world programme, ILC has been investigating the scale and future trends of selected non-communicable and communicable diseases (cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, lung cancer, HIV and influenza) among people aged 50 and over.

In Prevention in an ageing world it explores, in more detail, the case for action to prevent influenza (flu) among older people and the link between productivity and the flu.

Although there is very clear potential for economic and social benefits from preventing flu, and  strong evidence of the efficacy of vaccinations, these remain underutilised in many better off countries, with use even declining in some countries.

In an ageing world, and where comorbidities expose more people to the impact of flu, prioritising prevention across the life course is essential. The policy environment needs to support preventative interventions and create consistent messaging around the need for, and value of, flu vaccination.

Innovation to support flu vaccination uptake needs to be encouraged, including to find new delivery mechanisms and more effective ways to promote the importance of flu vaccination to people across their life courses. And it’s important to recognise that flu is the tip of the iceberg in terms of vaccine-preventable conditions, with vaccinations for other diseases such as shingles and pneumococcal diseases also available.

ILC Chief Executive Baroness Sally Greengross OBE argued: “If we fail to intervene and to prevent ill health across the life course, we will pay the price. Our estimates suggest that the flu costs better off countries more than £30 billion in sick days every year.

“Governments have repeatedly stated their commitment to prevention across the life course – from support for the WHO’s Decade of Healthy Ageing to G20 statements affirming the importance of prevention.

“But improving vaccination uptake rates requires governments and policy makers to follow through with action, not rhetoric.

“The economic and social costs of failing to act are substantial. Inaction is not an option.”