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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
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Protecting the Community From Flu continued...

The study included close to 950 Canadian school-aged children and 2,326 other community members from 49 Hutterite colonies.

Children in some of the colonies were given the flu vaccine, while children in other colonies were given hepatitis A vaccine instead of flu shots.

Based on computer models, the researchers hypothesized that 70% of the children in a colony would need to be vaccinated to protect the general community. The actual average coverage in colonies where children got the flu shots was 83%.

During the 2008-2009 flu season, 4.5% of the population in the colonies where children were vaccinated against the flu got influenza, compared to 10.6% of the population in the colonies in which the hepatitis A vaccine was given.

"The risk of getting the flu was around 60% lower for people who lived in colonies where the kids got the flu shots," Loeb tells WebMD.

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fourfold, but flu-related deaths began to climb again after the mandatory vaccination law was relaxed in 1987 and later repealed.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.

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