June 18, 2009 / 10:33 AM / 10 years ago

Vaccinate kids to control H1N1 flu: researchers

Students wash their hands as a precaution against Influenza A (H1N1) inside the Ramon Advacena public high school in Manila, June 18, 2009. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

LONDON (Reuters) - Targeting children for vaccination may be the best way of using limited supplies of vaccine to control the current H1N1 flu pandemic, British researchers said on Thursday.

Drugmakers are racing to make a vaccine against the new flu strain but if the disease increases significantly in the northern hemisphere autumn, as many experts fear, there are unlikely to be enough shots to vaccinate entire populations.

Researchers from the University of Warwick said that vaccinating children rather than adults would not only help protect a group at greatest risk of exposure to the virus, but would also offer protection to unvaccinated adults.

This so-called “herd immunity” effect would mean significantly less vaccine would be needed to help control the spread of H1N1, also known as swine flu, which was first detected in Mexico in April.

“Our models suggest that the larger the household — which in most cases means the more children living at home — the more likely the infection is to spread,” said researcher Matt Keeling.

“This doesn’t mean that everyone in the household needs to be vaccinated but suggests that vaccination programs for children might help control a potential pandemic.”

Keeling and colleague Thomas House used computer modeling to predict the spread of pandemic influenza and published their findings in the journal Epidemiology and Infection.

Leading flu vaccine makers include Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Greg Mahlich

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