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The Economics of Measles

The MMR vaccine at Boston Children’s Hospital on Feb. 26, 2015. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

As of April 15, 2019, there have been 555 reported cases of measles in the United States in this year alone. This staggeringly large number has caused some cities, like Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to declare a State of Emergency and implement mandatory vaccinations. Others have barred unvaccinated children from schools and public spaces. This extremely contagious, preventable, and once eradicated disease has returned. The virus can even stay in the air up to two hours after an infected person has left the room. This dramatically increases the virus’ potential to infect and cause outbreaks. However, not only has it had significant impacts on the health and safety of the individual and to the public, but it has had a significant economic impact on the community as well.

Dr. Maria Sundaram, a fellow at Emory’s Rollin’s School of Public Health, broke down the costs of a measles outbreak into three parts: the individual, community, and country. The paper, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzes the real and hypothetical costs of measles from a single patient to the entire United States population.

At the individual level, Dr. Sundaram and her colleagues estimate that a person with measles has an economic cost of about $1,000. But this number varies greatly person to person. During this current measles outbreak, an infected student flew on an airplane while unknowingly contagious. The cost of tracking everyone who he potentially infected on that flight cost over $140,000.

Measles also has a significant economic cost to the community as well. About one in four measles patients are hospitalized, which causes a significant drain on the hospital and healthcare system. The average cost of a patient’s stay is around $10,000. This is not only a financial burden for the individual, but the healthcare system at large.

In addition, a measles outbreak has a large economic effect on the broader community and country as well. When there is an outbreak, the protocol to contain an outbreak can be extremely costly. A control team needs to be established so that they can isolate measles cases, quarantine exposed individuals, vaccinate unvaccinated individuals, maintain laboratory proficiency to test for measles cases, as well as screen hospital staff to prevent the spread of the disease within the healthcare system. This economic cost is significant, and can be anywhere between 2.7 and 5.3 million dollars.

With all of these economic costs together (individual, community, and country), a “worst case scenario” measles outbreak would cost the United States roughly four billion dollars. Yearly, the government spends 45 million dollars subsidizing the measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine to prevent this disastrous (and expensive!) situation from ever happening.

Image courtesy of CNN

Of course, the human cost of measles is the primary reason driving health professionals to increase vaccination rates. Measles complications can cause disabilities and other devastating long-term health impairments such as: loss of vision or hearing, brain damage, even death. But the consequences are not just limited to physical health. Dr. Sundaram’s work highlights that the financial effects can be far reaching and have deep roots into the local community and even nationwide.


Although there is currently no cure for measles, the best way to protect yourself is to get the vaccine. It’s never too late to get vaccinated!


For more information about measles, outbreaks and how to reduce your facility’s risk, contact the experts at Cogency at