With existing patterns of vaccine usage, the problem is enormous. Seasonal influenza in the U.S. results each year in an average of 36,000 deaths, more than 200,000 hospitalizations, an $87 billion economic burden, and millions of hours of lost time at school and work not to mention feeling sick and miserable.
The flu vaccine up until 2000 was only recommended for people over 65, Medlock said, and other age groups were added in the past decade as it became clear they also were at high risk of death or complications children from age six months to five years, and adults over 50. Just recently, age was taken completely out of the equation.
"Clearly we would want people at high medical risk to get a flu vaccine as long as it is abundant," Medlock said. "But what we're losing in our current approach is the understanding that most flu is transmitted by children and young adults. They don't as often die from it, but they are the ones who spread it to everyone else."
The population and disease transmission modeling done in the new study outlines this, and concluded that a 25-100 percent reduction in deaths from flu or its complications could be achieved if current flu vaccine usage were shifted to much more heavily include children and young adults, as well as those at high risk.
One obstacle, experts say, is the historic reluctance to add even more vaccines to those already received and often mandated for school-age children.
"A simple program we could consider in our K-12 schools would be to have the school nurse, or other local professional, give every child an annual flu shot, with the parents being informed about it in advance and having the option to decline," Medlock said.
"Vaccinating children could p
|Contact: Jan Medlock|
Oregon State University