Preventing Flu Deaths

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To the Editor:

Re "Winter Is Flu Season, but Maybe It Doesn't Have to Be" (Week in Review, Dec. 26):

You say "it would be nice to know for sure" that immunizing schoolchildren against influenza is the most effective route to prevent flu-related deaths among the vulnerable. There is no need for a new national study, nor do we need to await the analysis of Canadian data.

In Japan, from 1962 through 1987, influenza vaccination of schoolchildren was mandatory. Throughout the 1980's, the large majority of children in Japan were vaccinated, leading to adequate levels of community (formerly called "herd") immunity.

During those years, the death rate from influenza and flu-related pneumonia dropped by 70 percent among the elderly in Japan.

When the law was relaxed in 1987 and repealed in 1994 for political reasons, the death rate returned to its prior level.

Mass vaccination of schoolchildren in the United States would likely save thousands of lives here as well.

Gilbert Ross, M.D.
The writer is medical director, American Council on Science and Health