Without H1N1 pandemic this year, concern rises over vaccine rate, potential for increased flu cases

ALBUQUERQUE — Experts estimate that the H1N1 pandemic encouraged 23 percent more people nationwide, on average, to get flu shots last fall. Now that the pandemic threat is generally over, insurers like Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM) are concerned that members may be less motivated to vaccinate this year, which could result in more people suffering from seasonal flu.

“Because more people received vaccinations last fall, we saw 69 percent fewer cases of the flu this past spring,” said Matthew Fontana, MD, chief medical officer for BCBSNM. “People may be surprised by the number of flu cases next spring if they don’t vaccinate this year with the same sense of urgency.”

In addition to compromised health, influenza also carries a painful price tag. Last year, BCBSNM paid approximately $2.7 million in flu costs. Because the average cost of the flu was $71 per person, members could have saved over $50 each by getting a $15 or $20 flu shot. By promoting immunization last year, BCBSNM helped control rising medical costs by saving more than $5.8 million in flu-related expenses, $1.3