Vaccinated Kids Protect Whole Family

Kids are known for spreading germs.

When it comes to the flu, kids are 10 to 100 times more infectious than adults, experts say.

What if your child could be vaccinated at school with a simple nasal spray that would protect not only your child but your whole family?

According to a new study published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, flu vaccines for elementary school children can help reduce flu for the whole family.

In this study, children from 24 public elementary schools in the United States were assigned to get either a nasal-spray flu vaccine or no vaccine.

Families of those children who got the the flu vaccine had fewer flulike symptoms, visited doctors less frequently, and used less medication than families whose kid did not receive the flu vaccine, researchers say.

"Our study showed that not only did we protect the child by the flu vaccine -- by doing a school-based vaccination program -- we protected their families and probably the community as well," said Dr. James King, lead author of the study and chief of general pediatrics at University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Another study published in the same issue of the journal indicated that flu vaccines offered good protection even when the vaccine was not a direct match to whatever virus was circulating in the environment.

This offers more support to the idea of vaccinating children to better protect families and communities against the flu.

Flu Vaccine Safe for Kids

The risks of giving kids flu vaccines are small, experts say.

"There are essentially no downsides to immunizing school kids," said Dr. Gregory Poland, director of Mayo Vaccine Research Group in Rochester, Minn. "These data are important because they provide confirmatory data useful in constructing public health policy."

"The risks of vaccination with available influenza virus vaccines are so minimal, while the likelihood of illness, even hospitalization and rarely death from influenza, are major and real," said Dr. Samuel Katz, professor and chairman emeritus of pediatrics at Duke University Medical School in Durham, N.C.

FluMist -- a live, weakened type of flu vaccine used in this study -- is not a shot but a spray delivered into the nostrils. This may make both parents and kids happy.

"No child got a needle. We were able to do this without disrupting activities," King said.

Kids Are Key to Containing Flu Epidemic

Kids are biologically more infectious than adults and are infectious for longer periods of time, according to experts.

Some believe that by vaccinating kids, we are able to better protect our most vulnerable population -- the elderly.

If kids are never infected, they can't spread the flu to other people.

"Children are tremendous amplifiers of the flu," King said. "A child is able to infect the family and the whole community much more effectively than an adult. By vaccinating kids, we can protect the elderly."

"The benefits [of vaccinating children] are enormous," said Dr. Robert Jacobson, chairman of the department of pediatric and adolescent medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "The elderly do not respond as well to the vaccine as young people. We can break the cycle and spread by vaccinating the younger people."

Breaking the cycle, so to speak, would be a great step for public health.

Roughly 36,000 people die annually from the flu, experts estimate, even though it is a preventable disease.

This study could even help shape vaccination priority policies in case of a pandemic influenza.

"Kids might be vaccinated first," Poland said.

School-Based Flu Vaccinations for Everyone?

Because vaccinating kids appears to help protect the whole family, a flu vaccine sounds like the thing to do. But how hard is it to have your child vaccinated by the pediatrician?

"It will be very hard for private practitioners to vaccinate all the children in the fall," King said.

"School-based flu shots will become a public health tool that we can use to vaccinate large numbers of children. In reality, this will help parents not miss any workdays to get their kids vaccinated," King said.

Given the many advantages of vaccinating kids, experts say that school-based flu vaccination deserves nationwide consideration.

In fact, a number of school districts in California, Florida, Philadelphia and Tennessee have already adopted school-based vaccination program for kids.

The momentum is "increasing annually for a universal influenza virus vaccine recommendation for everyone," Katz said.

"Public health officials and physicians should consider continuing to broaden flu vaccine recommendations. We should consider whether we as a country should move to universal flu vaccination of all schoolchildren," Jacobson said.

School-based vaccination "represents sound, cost-effective public health practice designed to reduce illness, reduce hospitalization, and save lives in the community," said Dr. John Modlin, chair of the department of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, N.H.

For additional information on the Influenza Vaccine check out www.uptodate.com

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