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Whaddyaknow? That crazy vaccinate-kids-against-flu strategy just might work

March 9, 2010 |  7:50 pm

Vaccine Kids go to school and share germs, they come home and share germs, they visit relatives and share germs... At no time is this special ability on better display than during influenza season. Logically enough, some public health experts (perhaps having witnessed their own kids' inattention to hygiene or having considered how the virus is actually spread) have been re-considering the longstanding emphasis on first vaccinating the elderly against the flu.

The elderly are usually more at risk of flu complications (this most recent outbreak played out a bit differently than normal), but they're not known as disease carriers. So might it make  sense, from a disease-control standpoint, to focus on vaccinating the group most likely to spread the disease? 

Turns out, that yes, yes, it would.

In a new study, released online Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., Canadian researchers compared flu incidence in small Hutterite colonies that vaccinated kids against the flu to the incidence in small Hutterite colonies that didn't vaccinate kids.

And guess what? Vaccinating kids appeared to reduce the risk of flu transmission communitywide. Here's the key data point: "Immunization of children and adolescents aged 3 to 15 years with the trivalent influenza vaccine formulated for the 2008-2009 influenza season conferred 61% indirect protection against influenza among persons who did not receive the study vaccine."

And guess what else? The vaccination didn't seem to damage the kids.

It's almost as if vaccinating some members of a herd helps protect the entire herd. Crazy, I know.

Here's the full study.

The researchers conclude:

"Our findings offer experimental proof to support selective influenza immunization of school aged children with inactivated influenza vaccine to interrupt influenza transmission. Particularly, if there are constraints in quantity and delivery of vaccine, it may be advantageous to selectively immunize children in order to reduce community transmission of influenza."

"Constraints in quantity and delivery of vaccine ..." that sounds familiar. But not to worry, should we find ourselves in a pandemic flu situation and should we all be at threat from a relatively unknown strain of influenza, you can probably get by without getting your own kids a vaccine.

Such was the thinking last year, as Melissa Healy describes in this story: Parents weigh the risk of vaccinating children for H1N1. And a few weeks later in this story: Most parents won't have kids get H1N1 flu shots, study finds.

In an earlier primer on disease control as it pertains to the flu, staff writer Shari Roan wrote presciently on the topic back in 2008:

"Physicians hope that vaccinating kids en masse will not only spare thousands of them from the aches and pains of flu, missed school days and hospitalizations, but also will hinder the spread of illness throughout the rest of society -- parents, grandparents, baby-sitters, neighbors, teachers, coaches, office workers, healthcare personnel, bus drivers, and on and on.

"This is the concept of herd immunity," says Dr. Stephen C. Aronoff, chairman of the department of pediatrics at Temple University in Philadelphia. "The more people you vaccinate, the less likely you are to see infection in people who are not vaccinated." Full story: Target: Kids.

And then there was this explainer: They help kids -- but mostly benefit the herd

We're now exploring whether there's a growing demand for a more logical, considerate herd.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo credit: Associated Press

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