HEADLINES Published January13, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

Flu in the Community Reduced by Vaccinations in School

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Kids lined up for flu vaccination.
(Photo : Joe Raedle, Getty Images )

Giving flu vaccine to children in schools protects more than the kids who get the shots, according to a study. The number of people of all ages who went to an emergency room with flu or a flu-like infection was reduced substantially in a county where children got the flu vaccine at school.

Researchers looked at the 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 flu seasons to see how well flu vaccination programs based in schools worked. They wanted to see how effective a school-based vaccine program was at reducing the number of emergency room visits for flu and flu-like illness.

They did this by comparing data from Alachua County in Florida, where a school-based flu vaccine program has been in operation for several years, to data from other Florida counties. When half the children aged 5 to 17 in Alachua were vaccinated in school, the program reduced emergency room visits by 79% in 2011/2012 and 71% in 2012/2013 in this age group. Among all non-school residents--in other words everyone but 5 to17 year-olds--the reduction was 65% for 2011/12 and 46% for 2012/13.

The vaccine program was associated with the most effectiveness in children aged birth to 4 years old. In this age group, the researchers saw an 84% to 89% reduction of emergency room visits due to flu.

The 2012/2013 flu season was milder in nature, which is why the reduction in emergency room visits was not as great as in 2011/2012.

A flu vaccine program in schools could reduce the public health costs of annual outbreaks of the flu. Flu kills thousands of Americans each year and costs $10.4 billion in healthcare fees each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Making school-age kids the focus of flu prevention is sensible because they tend to stay sick longer.  Children are also more likely to spread flu virus because they tend to have poorer hygiene habits and have contact with more people than most adults.

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