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School-Based Vaccination Program is Effective at Reducing the Impact of Influenza in Students and Their Families

Thursday, December 14, 2006

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Children and their families in a multi-state study displayed fewer flu symptoms

A national study led by researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine finds giving the nasal spray flu vaccine to elementary school students can significantly help reduce the impact of influenza on children and members of their family. The study compared families of children who attend schools where the vaccine was given with families of children in schools not targeted to receive the vaccine.
 
The results of the study, to be published in the December 14, 2006, edition of The New England Journal of Medicine, indicate that vaccinating school children is an effective way of helping control the spread of influenza in community settings.

"Approximately 36,000 people nationwide die from influenza each year, with the majority of those deaths in the elderly and the very young. In addition, about 200,000 hospitalizations result from influenza infections each year," says James King, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and principal investigator of the study.

"Many studies have shown that children are the primary transmitters of influenza to their families and communities. Our research shows that school-based immunization is an effective way to vaccinate large numbers of school children, and once they are protected, so are their families. The nasal-spray flu vaccine is well suited for this type of program," says Dr. King, who is also head of the division of general pediatrics at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children.
 
A total of 2,717 healthy students over age five (almost half of the children in the targeted schools) were given the nasal-spray influenza vaccine. The study, which was conducted during the 2004 flu season, included children from 24 public elementary schools in Maryland, Texas and Minnesota and four private schools in the state of Washington.

The schools were grouped into clusters with respect to geography, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. In each of the 11 clusters, one school was selected as the intervention school, and healthy students over the age of five were offered nasal-spray influenza vaccine. The other participating schools were designated as control schools.

"Compared to the group with non-vaccinated school children, there was a 23 to 36 percent relative reduction in adult and child influenza-like illnesses in the intervention school households," says Dr. King. "In addition, there was a 25 to 40 percent reduction in medical office visits, household use of prescriptions, humidifiers and over-the-counter medications, as well as school days missed by elementary and high school students in the intervention households and work days missed by adults. This was a remarkable reduction given the one-week time frame we were monitoring in our study, out of a typical 8-12 week flu season. Our results indicated that elementary school children are amplifiers of influenza activity in the community, and vaccinating the children offers subsequent protection for their family members," Dr. King adds.
 
"This study was an amazing cooperative effort among investigators and schools in four states," Dr. King continues. "In Maryland alone, the program has been duplicated in at least five public school systems. I believe the ease of administering nasal spray vaccine without a needle may enable us to administer the vaccine to more children. This program is an excellent model for pandemic influenza preparedness or other biologic emergencies."

This study was funded by MedImmune, Inc., developer and manufacturer of FluMist nasal-spray, which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dr. King worked closely with MedImmune, Inc., in the clinical development of the FluMist nasal spray, which was used in this study. He has received grant support from Ross Pharmaceuticals, Glaxo-Smith-Kline and MedImmune, Inc.

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