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Vaccinate Kids to Stop Flu in Community

Study Shows Vaccine in Schoolchildren Indirectly Prevents Spread of Flu to High-Risk People

Vaccination of Schoolchildren

The findings mimic, on a smaller scale, the experience in Japan from the early 1960s until the late 1980s.

During this time, annual flu shots were mandatory for school-aged children and vaccination rates of between 50% and 85% were achieved.

Deaths from the flu in Japan during this period dropped threefold to fourfold, but flu-related deaths began to climb again after the mandatory vaccination law was relaxed in 1987 and later repealed.

Infectious disease specialist William Schaffner, MD, says in the U.S. about 30% of children get annual flu shots, even though the CDC has recommended routine vaccination of the young for the past four years.

Schaffner is professor and chairman of the division of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn.

"We have a long way to go to get to the vaccination levels that would be necessary to see this herd immunity in the general population," he tells WebMD.

Schaffner says the new findings could have important implications in years in which there are flu vaccine shortages.

Public health officials are now debating whether to recommend immunization for healthy children as well as people at high risk for flu complications in these years to reduce community-wide transmission.

Pulmonologist Len Horovitz, MD, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, warns that vaccinating the healthy young is no substitute for vaccinating those most at risk from influenza.

"I would hope at-risk people don't take from this that they don't need to be vaccinated," he says. "That would be the wrong message to send."

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