Do we have it backward when it comes to flu vaccine?
Children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with certain chronic diseases and health-care workers. The only change in recent years was in 2008, when the definition of children was expanded to include those up to 19. It previously went only to age 5.
By and large, though, it's a list focuses on people most vulnerable to serious complications should they get the flu.
Researchers at Yale University, though, believe we might do more good if we instead focused on people most likely to spread the flu, and the CDC recommendations miss a key link in the germ distribution system: Parents.
"Schoolchildren are most responsible for transmission, and their parents serve as bridges to the rest of the population," says an abstract of the study published last week in the online journal Science.
The study looked at several factors to consider in coming up with the optimal system for distributing vaccine: deaths, infections, years of life lost and economic costs.
The models pointed to vaccinating parents - who, unless they're pregnant or have chronic disease, are not in a priority group - as the best way to protect more people and save money.
The findings really aren't all that surprising. If you've ever worked in an office, you see plenty of anecdotal evidence day in, day out. The parents are the first to get sick, then they spread their cooties to everyone else.
According to Medical News Today, the Yale team calculated that using the CDC policies for the swine flu would result in 1.3 million infections, 2,600 deaths, and $2.8 billion in economic impact. In contrast, the Yale model would result in 113,000 infections, 242 deaths, and $1.6 billion in cost.
So what? A model's just a model, some will argue. Sometimes they hold in the real world, sometimes they don't.
Given the startling difference in the numbers in deaths and infections alone, though, the Yale model deserves a close look.
The government being what it is, it easily could take a decade of committee debate to make the Yale guidelines official. In the meantime, doctors and clinics should work to make it unofficial.
While there's nothing a doctor can do in times of shortages, when the CDC recommendations must be followed, in normal times they should start steering parents toward the flu vaccine.
Maybe they can even poke the parent first, in hopes of alleviating children's fears when they see how brave Mommy and Daddy are.
This will, of course, backfire if Mommy and Daddy pass out cold at the sight of a needle. But it's still worth a shot.
Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.