Offering flu vaccines at elementary schools could expand vaccination rates and reduce costs, according to a new study reported in the scientific journal Vaccine by researchers from UC Davis Health System; the Monroe County, New York, Department of Public Health; University of Rochester Medical Center; and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The best protection against flu for children at least 6 months of age is the seasonal vaccine, yet inoculation rates among children are low, according to the CDC. Only about 40 percent of children received a 2012-2013 flu vaccine, which is typically provided in a primary-care setting.
“Primary-care practices may not have the capacity to vaccinate all U.S. children against seasonal influenza,” said Byung-Kwang Yoo, an associate professor of public health sciences at UC Davis and lead author of the study. “If the CDC’s recommendations were followed, primary-care offices would have to accommodate 42 million additional patient visits during the five-month window for each flu season.”
The vaccine can be lifesaving, especially for children, who are among those most at risk for the flu and its complications. The CDC reports that 90 percent of children who died from flu during 2012-2013 were not vaccinated. This is why public health experts have made it a priority to identify cost-effective ways to broaden access to flu vaccines for children.
“The flu is a disease with high probability of reaching epidemic levels even though we have an effective vaccine,” said Yoo, who was with the University of Rochester when the study was conducted. “Our goal is to find ways to ensure that the best prevention is as accessible as possible.”
The Monroe County study team conducted a prospective, randomized trial during late 2009 that involved 18 urban and 14 suburban elementary schools with more than 13,000 students in the Rochester, N.Y., area. Two onsite flu vaccination clinics were held four weeks apart at 21 of these schools, with a total student population of 9,027. The remaining 11 schools, with a total of 4,534 students served as the control-group site where vaccination clinics were not held.
The researchers then compared the overall flu vaccination rates of children enrolled in all schools included in the study. The results showed a 13.2 percentage point increase in vaccination rates among children with access to school-located vaccination clinics.