TORONTO A landmark study looking at how to limit the spread of influenza has shown what experts have long believed but hadn't until now proved: Giving flu shots to kids helps protect everyone in a community from the virus.
The study, led by Dr. Mark Loeb of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., showed the risk of catching the flu was lowered by nearly 60 per cent in communities where a substantial portion of kids aged three to 15 got flu shots.
That level of indirect protection is nearly as good as what healthy adults might expect from getting a flu shot themselves and is perhaps better than what a senior with a waning immune system might expect from a flu vaccination.
I wrote about this a few years ago in Slate (text or podcast, and it's good to see this proven out in so robust a study. I'm curious to see whether it affects vaccine policy in the U.S. Every year I get my flu shot, and it's a great deal of trouble, and when I go, the lines are dominated by older people, most of whom won't develop immunity in response to the vaccine anyway. Meanwhile, the state's children sit already collected in schools where vaccinating the majority of them -- all willing -- would be easy and cheap.
The current system, in short, spend a lot of resources inefficiently delivering expensive medication in a way that minimizes the medication's effect. As that seems the American Way in medicine, I'm not optimistic it will change. But maybe this study, atop the prioritization of children's immunization against H1N1 this past year, will start to swing policy. If we gave flu shots at schools to all willing comers of all ages, we'd have far fewer flu-related deaths -- and have a more efficient system in place for novel viruses such as H1N1.
i'll hold my breath.