Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mathematical Model Demonstrates Herd Immunity in Vaccined Schoolkids

A recent paper in the journal PLOS ONE written by researchers at the University of Florida have confirmed the long-held notion that immunizing elementary, middle, and high-school children has benefits of immunity that extend to other groups, as well. 

This trend was first suggested by multiple mathematical models, but a study based in Alachua County validated those predictions. In the study, half of the study body (ages 5-17) who attended public schools in the county recieved a flu vaccine. When nonspecific data regarding flu transmission rates in the whole population was aggregated, researchers found that "the rate of influenza-like illness among 0-4 year olds" dipped by an incredible 89%. The rest of the population which wasn't school-going reported a broad 60% decrease in cases of the flu. 

These results are very important because they suggest that clever resource allocation could potentially be just as effective as vaccinating every member of the population. Specifically, schoolchildren are in a unique position in that they interact with a huge number of people -- friends at school and after school activities, as well as family -- and hence may be a good target population to foist herd immunity upon other members of the community, with no extra cost. 

Yearly, some 38million days of school are skipped by children because of the flu. Even beyond the external benefits to other society members that vaccinating school children provides, vaccinating all or most students as in one of the study groups could be a policy other institutions model in the near future. 

-Shubha Raghvendra


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