Vaccinating School Children Also Protects the Elderly

This letter appeared on October 12, 2006 in the Wall Street Journal.

The likelihood that vaccinating schoolchildren against influenza would protect not only those vaccinated but their elderly relatives, was supported by the experience in Japan from the 1970s through the 1980s. During that period, mass inoculation against the flu was required for schoolchildren, and the mortality rate from influenza and pneumonia was significantly decreased, both among the youngsters and the elderly. When this mandate was revoked, the rates climbed again. This experience was similar to the Tecumseh, MI study that you referred to in Science Journal ("If We Must Ration Vaccines for a Flu, Who Calls the Shots?" Marketplace, Oct. 6). Older folks often don't have a vigorous response to the vaccine, while children do, and they are therefore less likely to get infected and the spread the infection around.

The Centers for Disease Control has now included infants and toddlers among those recommended to receive the influenza vaccine routinely. In order to reduce the toll of Americans dying each year from the flu. It seems logical that schoolchildren should also be included in the groups recommended to get the annual shot.

As for rationing, that is unlikely to be a problem this year, as the CDC has predicted adequate supplies to allow all who wish to be vaccinated to do so, which is still the best protection against the flu. Of course, such predictions have turned out to be unduly optimistic in the past, so getting the vaccine early in the season -- like this month -- is the safest approach.

Gilbert Ross, M.D.
Medical Director
American Council on Science and Health
New York