August 21, 2009

Schoolchildren, Parents Should Get Flu Vaccine Priority

A new study has found that the best way to control the spread of the flu is by vaccinating parents and schoolchildren.

The study said that it was more important to vaccinate people who are highly likely to spread the illness than to vaccinate those who are more susceptible to catching it.

"The vaccines would be better used to prevent transmission within schools and out to parents, who then spread the flu to the rest of the population," Jan Medlock of Clemson University in South Carolina, told Reuters.

Medlock and colleague Alison Galvani of Yale University used a model based on the virus responsible for the 1918 and 1957 pandemics to find the best way to fight large-scale infections.

In one scenario, they noted that if at least 40 vaccinations are available in a typical flu season, vaccinating children ages 5 to 19 and adults in their 30s would cut the death rate in half.

Traditionally, it is recommended that children under the age of 5 and adults over the age of 50 receive priority in vaccinations.

"If you can stop it in the schools, you can indirectly protect grandparents, or co-workers without kids," Medlock said.

"Flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective at blocking infection. If you can prevent people from being exposed to begin with, it is more effective than vaccinating people at risk," he told Reuters.

"The data is probably quite useful in Western Europe almost directly. As far as the developing world, my guess is the number of vaccines they will have will be severely limited."

John Brownstein, of Harvard and the Children's Hospital of Boston, told the Associated Press that the new study's findings are "very much in line with the evidence" that show schoolchildren to be a key factor in the spread of flu viruses.

The study's findings come on the same day as a report from the World Health Organization that said swine flu cases could double every three to four days in some countries.

"At a certain point, there will seem to be an explosion in case numbers," said WHO's Western Pacific director, Shin Young-soo. "It is certain there will be more cases and more deaths."

The death toll for the H1N1 virus has reached over 1,800 people, according to WHO, which has declared the strain a pandemic.

WHO has estimated that as many as 2 billion people, or about one-third of the world's population, could be infected with the H1N1 flu virus during the next two years.

Yesterday, US regulators called on employers to discourage employees with flu-like symptoms from coming into work and vaccinate those who are at higher risk of infection.

"If an employee stays home sick, it is not only the best thing for his health, but it is also the best thing for his co-workers," said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

The H1N1 virus pandemic is expected to worsen with the arrival of autumn weather.

Seasonal and H1N1 vaccines are underway from US drug companies AstraZeneca's MedImmune unit, CSL, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Novartis AG and Sanofi-Aventis SA, according to Reuters.

Additionally, Australia announced Thursday that it would begin swine flu vaccinations next month.

"I think it's anticipated by the middle or end of September we will be starting to vaccinate the priority groups that, of course, are the most vulnerable," Australian Health Minister Nicola Roxon told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.


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