Despite the fact that protective vaccines are generally available, the regular influenza virus causes upwards of 200,000 hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths every year in the United States – mostly among the elderly and immuno-compromised.

Current vaccination policy tends to focus more on people most at risk of death – namely the elderly – despite the fact that children are also prone to illness and are believed to play a big role in the transmission of the disease. While on the face this strategy seems to make a lot of sense – vaccinate those most at risk – it turns out that vaccinating adults tends to be a lot harder than vaccinating children due to a number of factors: they are not accustomed to getting shots, many do not visit the doctor every year, and tend to be less proactive on this front. Children tend to be good captive targets – we frequently require them to be vaccinated before attending school, for example.

Epidemiologists have long discussed the merits of herd immunity and have recognized the role of children in the transmission of influenza in the general population. There has been a great deal of chatter of late about what optimal vaccination policy should be for influenza – in particular whether children should be preferentially targeted in hopes of blocking the transmission of the virus in the population.

A new study conducted in isolated communities on the Canadian prairies suggest that such proposals might have merit. In a randomized trial, the children in treatment communities were vaccinated against the influenza vaccine and the rates of influenza in the non-immunized population was assessed. The researchers found rather substantial reductions in the incidence of influenza among the general population suggesting that such a strategy could in fact be a good idea. The authors even suggest that the “protective effect is likely comparable with or greater than what can be achieved by direct immunization”. Plus, it also protects the kids. Pretty cool.

Roll-up your sleeves kiddies and do your part for your communities!

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1 Response » to “Kids have cooties”

  1. Alanna says:

    Am now feeling downright virtuous about the way my mom and I pinned my screaming, flailing son to the exam table for his flu shot…

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