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Added strategy may provide better handle on annual flu epidemic

Vaccinating school-age kids up to age 18 not only protects youngsters, but the entire community, say flu experts at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

“The new recommendation to vaccinate school-age children ages 5 to 18 years is a great step in the right direction because the current practice to first vaccinate high-risk populations is not working,” said Dr. W. Paul Glezen, lead researcher at the BCM Influenza Research Center. “We’ve actually seen an increase in hospitalizations and deaths in this group in the last few years.”

This added strategy by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Immunization Advisory Committee was needed to try to get a handle on the annual flu epidemic, but Glezen says the biggest hurdle now is developing the infrastructure to deliver vaccines to this population.

“If we develop the infrastructure, vaccinating this age group will be a great way to reduce illness in the family and in the entire community,” said Glezen. “Having an infrastructure in place will also put us in better shape for the next pandemic.” The indirect effects of vaccinating all school-age children are significant because they are the primary spreaders of flu illness every year. But Glezen says that for these recommendations to work, it will require cooperation between medical groups, public health professionals and the schools.