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A Wharton finance professor and a University of Rochester associate finance professor found that heightened flu mitigation efforts would be an effective life-preserving investment.

Credit: Chase Sutton

A Penn professor's research paper urges policymakers to give more attention to flu mitigation efforts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The paper, titled "The Effectiveness of Life-Preserving investments in Times of COVID-19," found that wide-spread influenza vaccination would be an effective life-preserving investment, based on current projections for COVID-19 mitigation costs. 

Authored by Wharton finance professor Jules van Binsbergen and University of Rochester associate finance professor Christian Opp, the study evaluates the effectiveness of preventive investments on maximizing overall life expectancy.

In an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian, van Binsbergen wrote that he suggests the government "could make flu vaccines free and start a campaign to convince people to participate and get timely flu shots."

With over 100 studies currently being developed and several Phase 3 trials on humans set to begin later this summer, scientists around the world are scrambling to create a COVID-19 vaccine. With so much attention focused on finding a vaccine, van Binsbergen and Opp wrote it is also important for political investments in mitigation for other viruses, such as the flu. 

Van Binsbergen told Penn Today that the study was spurred by concerns on how a potential second wave of COVID-19 alongside flu season, which the United States Centers for Disease Control and Protection defines as between December and February, may further impact on the strain on the medical system. 

As of July 8, there have been over 3 million reported cases and over 132,000 deaths in the United States due to COVID-19. On April 17, the CDC estimated between 24,000 to 62,000 deaths from the 2019-2020 flu season, from October 1 to April 4.  

Van Binsbergen and Opp highlight how the benefits of mitigation efforts far outweigh the costs, as it would give the healthcare sector more time and resources to develop treatments to other diseases as vaccinations would lower peak demand for medical treatment from hospitals. 

Their research model computes the outcome of mitigation investment taking into consideration factors of age distribution, life expectancy, number of deaths by cause and age, and life years lost due to death.

An estimated 156,000 lives could have been saved in 2017 alone by making vaccination mandatory, Van Binsbergen and Opp found. The cost of this mandatory vaccination, according to the study, is computed to $3.85 billion dollars for the estimated account of 192.5 million unvaccinated people in the U.S., assuming a price of $20 per dose.