23 December 2014
A new study has found that immunising children with the flu vaccine can protect the wider community.
Although this was predicted to be the impact of school vaccination programmes, new research from the University of Florida (UF) has given evidence to support it.
The study found that, when half of children between the ages of five and 17 years old were given the vaccine through a school-based programme, the entire flu rate for that age group fell by more than three-quarters (79 per cent).
Published in PLOS ONE, the research revealed that the impact of such a vaccine programme is far more far reaching. Importantly, the team also found that the number of children below the age of four having flu also decreased by 89 per cent, despite them not being included in the school programmes.
In fact, among all non-school-aged people, the rate of influenza-like illness decreased by 60 per cent.
"The effect of school-based vaccination was profound, both on the students and on the community," said Cuc Tran, a doctoral student in public health at UF and a lead author in the study.
It is hoped these findings will help communities better decide how to allocate funding so it can be most effective in the fight against flu, which is prominent at this time of year especially.
Dr Tran said this should help people to see the connection between health and learning, as a comprehensive vaccination programme can help keep staff in school and parents at work.
The study, which drew on expertise from UF's College of Public Health and Health Professions, Emerging Pathogens Institute, Clinical Translational Science Institute, College of Medicine, College of Nursing, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Nursing and College of Pharmacy, is the first to show such significant indirect protection among the very young.
This could be important for the number of people that can not be immunised, such as babies under six months old and those suffering from health conditions. Dr Tran said the study shows that this method of vaccination can help protect those who would otherwise be vulnerable to the illness.
In 2006 a pilot programme was launched to see the advantages of running free flu vaccines to school-aged children through a simple nasal spray. The study used data from the 2011-12 and 2012-13 influenza seasons.
The UF study shows that getting school-aged kids immunized can pay dividends throughout the community, said Dr Parker Small Jr, co-founder of the study and a professor emeritus in UF's Emerging Pathogens Institute.
"Flu is the last pandemic killer of mankind," Dr Small said. "Just look at all of the energy devoted to thinking and planning about Ebola. If that same energy was put into flu, you could be saving thousands of lives and billions of dollars."
Posted by Jeanette Royston
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