Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Column: Flu shots for kids protect whole community

J. Glenn Morris Jr.
Published Dec. 11, 2014

Too few Floridians get their flu shots. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control reported that last year the Sunshine State had the worst influenza immunization rate in the United States, leaving our seniors and other susceptible groups disturbingly vulnerable.

But new research shows that a more strategic approach — namely, vaccinating schoolchildren — may help protect entire communities. As every parent knows, schools are virus exchange systems, and children are super spreaders. If we could stop or slow spread of disease within schools, we would also protect the student's family members, as well as the community as a whole. This concept is supported by mathematical modeling studies that suggest that immunizing 20 percent of children provides more protection to those over 65 than immunizing 90 percent of the elderly.

Does it work? In Alachua County, a school-based influenza immunization program — a collaborative effort of the county health department, the school system and community pediatricians — has for the past four years consistently achieved flu immunization rates among school-aged children that exceed 50 percent. And it shows. In research just published in the journal PLOS ONE, we find that this has resulted in almost complete protection of children in the 0-4 year age group (presumably because big brother or sister is not bringing the virus home from school), as well a significant reductions in influenza cases in the entire community.

That's important news with all but eight Florida counties having evidence of mild to moderate influenza transmission by the first week of December, based on data reported to the Florida Department of Health. Remember, flu is more than just a nuisance. It can be a life-threatening illness for the elderly and those with chronic diseases, and can have a major economic impact due to missed time from work (including time missed to care for a sick child).

Florida shouldn't be proud of having the worst overall influenza immunization rate. Maybe it's time to make it the nation's protected state, and take advantage of the cost savings associated with disease prevention. The Alachua County school-located immunization program shows that targeting immunization to groups at high risk of transmitting the disease — kids — pays off. Following the lead of Alachua County, and with the support of the Florida Department of Health and the Legislature, we could become the national model for flu prevention. What's not to like about saving lives — and being the best?

Dr. J. Glenn Morris Jr. is director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, and Dr. Parker A. Small Jr. is a professor emeritus there. They wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The Howard Frankland Bridge, which connects St. Petersburg and Tampa, is a leading symbol of regional unity.
    Organizations that rebrand themselves should have a regional mission that reflects the name.
  2. The White House says it has chosen President Donald Trump's golf resort in Miami as the site for next year's Group of Seven summit.  (AP Photo/Alex Sanz, File) ALEX SANZ  |  AP
    Monday’s letters to the editor
  3. Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o has written a children's book called Sulwe, about a girl who "was born the color of midnight."[Photo (2014) by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP] File photo
    Most white people have never heard of skin lightening cream or the “paper bag test,” where your fiance can be no darker than a paper sack. | Leonard Pitts Jr.
  4. Ayana Lage, 26, and Vagner Lage, 27, pose with a sonogram of their unborn child. Ayana writes openly about going through a miscarriage due to the baby having a rare genetic defect. She wonders why more women don't discuss their miscarriages. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Sunday’s letters to the editor
  5. Kreshae Humphrey, 26, applies ointments to the skin of her 3-year-old daughter, Nevaeh Soto De Jesus, after bathing her in bottled water. The parents bathe all three of their girls with bottled water because they believe the children were sickened by the tap water at the Southern Comfort mobile home park off U.S. 19 in Clearwater. The family is suing the park's owner over the issue, but the owner and the state say there are no problems with the drinking water there. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    The story of a Clearwater mobile home park and its water issues reflects a systemic breakdown.
  6. A long stretch of US 98 remains closed for repairs in Mexico Beach on Friday, September 27, 2019, almost one year after Hurricane Michael made landfall in the small coastal town. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Time is running out, so let’s get practical, says Craig Fugate
  7. FROM PRINT: Adam Goodman, national Republican media consultant
    Sure, fix capitalism’s flaws, but a wealth tax is not the way. | Adam Goodman
  8. 
 CLAY BENNETT  |  Chattanooga Times Free Press
  9. A view of the downtown St. Petersburg skyline and waterfront from over Tampa Bay.
    The news that the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation wants to change its name to include “Tampa Bay” has been met with resistance.
  10. Catherine Rampell, Washington Post columnist.
    Allegations of political cowardice can seem rich coming from candidates unwilling to acknowledge the obvious truths about things such as higher taxes. | Catherine Rampell
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement