Scientist recommends school-age kids should be the highest priority for the flu vaccine
Just in time for the new school year, a Yale scientist is saying schoolchildren and their parents are more important than the elderly. Well, at least when it comes to stopping the flu.
The government is readying for what could be the largest vaccination effort in human history, with the White House speculating Monday that the swine flu will kill between 30,000 and 90,000 more people than usual this year. Government officials want to inoculate half the population within a few months.
But school-age kids and their parents should be the highest priority for the flu vaccine, rather than very young children and the elderly, according to new findings announced in the latest issue of the journal Science.Alison Galvani, an associate professor in Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases, developed a new mathematical model for influenza transmission that takes age into account. She found that children between ages 5 and 19 are the worst flu spreaders. They often give it to their parents, adults ages 30-39, who act as "bridges" to the rest of the population. Galvani says giving vaccines to those two age groups could more effectively stop the virus' spread, thereby protecting more people, including the elderly.
"Our results illustrate the importance of considering transmission when allocating vaccines," she says in a press release.
Such a strategy would also require fewer vaccines, the study claims -- only 63 million youngsters and their Gen-X parents would get the shot, as opposed to about 85 million people, which is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's current standard.
The study is well-timed, given the White House's prediction Monday that the swine flu epidemic will likely send 2 million people into hospitals and cause 30,000 to 90,000 deaths in the U.S. this fall. Those numbers are on top of the annual standard of roughly 30,000 flu-related deaths.
While it's unlikely to pass muster with elderly folks or brand-new parents, the study claims denying Grandma the flu vaccine could actually save her life. Using CDC guidelines established in 2008, Galvani estimated current practices would result in roughly 1.3 million infections, 2,600 deaths and a $2.8 billion price tag. But if the CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices adopt Galvani's strategy, she estimated 113,000 people would get infected, just 242 would die and it would cost $1.6 billion.
The CDC should "reduce prioritization of children under age 5 and the elderly," Galvani said.
Good luck with that.
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