Every year 36,000 Americans die from contracting Influenza. Although ideally everyone would be vaccinated each flu season, vaccines can only be manufactured after virologists have determined which seasonal strain is infecting people. Additionally, the process of making vaccine and distributing it, necessarily means that city officials and medical practitioners always have to prioritize one group of people over another. Further, vaccination is a choice: how to we get families to comply with vaccination schedules even if the demand is met? None of this is a new challenge.
What is new, however, is that in an effort to better model influenza infections, researchers at OSU authored a study outlining the optimal strategy for inoculating a given population with the intent of limiting these five criterion; infections, deaths, hospitalizations, years of life lost, and contingent valuation. The study modeled several potential scenarios, such as abundant vs limited vaccine production and vaccination of youths vs adults, in order to determine the optimal strategy.
They found that yes, in general, youths are the proximate vector for spreading the infection to the broader community – but to a greater degree than we had imagined. As a consequence, a shift towards vaccinating schoolchildren primarily, instead of the previous policy of focusing on high risk patients (individuals with underlying conditions that could be exacerbated by infection) appeared to be the optimal strategy for reducing the impact of seasonal influenza infections on society. Just a decade ago flu vaccine was only recommended for people over 65 years old, which highlights the importance of chipping away at the problem that OSU is engaged with.
The authors noted, however, that achieving high vaccination coverage in children and young adults remains a challenge, and that without a change on the horizon, the existing infrastructure does not have the capacity to vaccinate a large percentage of school aged children. Still, every bit of progress in the fight against Influenza counts.
By William Tatum