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Community Flu Vaccination Programs Lead to Fewer Hospitalizations, Study Finds

little boy getting a vaccine

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Key Takeaways

  • Holding a community-wide vaccination event in a school can encourage more people to get vaccinated for the flu.
  • Locations where a SLIV has been held have seen lower hospitalization rates.
  • Experts wonder if this type of event could be helpful in halting the pandemic.

The results of a recent study published in the journal PLOS Medicine suggest that community-wide flu vaccination events, such as those held in schools, can drastically reduce the spread of viruses. Could these events be the answer to the COVID crisis once a vaccine is available?  

The Study

The city of Oakland, California took part in a several years-long study that involved a school-located immunization vaccination (SLIV) program. A SLIV is simply a community vaccination event that’s held in a school.

The goal of a SLIV is to vaccinate as many students as possible against the flu in the shortest amount of time and with the least amount of disparate resources. Now, health experts wonder if this type of setting could be key to curbing the spread of coronavirus once a vaccine finally becomes available. 

The SLIV program in the study was performed at preschools and elementary schools. According to the study, "Because school-aged children are responsible for the greatest proportion of community-wide influenza transmission, efforts to increase vaccination among children are likely to have the largest impact on transmission.”

Benefits of a School-Located Immunization Vaccination

Though it took a few years to notice an impact, there was a reduction in severe illness for non-elementary-aged individuals in Oakland. The community involved in the study saw a decrease of 17 influenza hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the third year. And the fourth year was even more encouraging, with a decrease of 37 flu-related hospitalizations per 100,000 people.

Those encouraging numbers extended to the town’s older population as well, with the over-65 age group seeing 160 fewer hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the fourth year. And schools themselves even benefitted from the SLIV with a decrease in illness-related school absences. 

Leann Poston, MD

When a certain proportion of the population is protected against a virus via either natural immunity or vaccination, then the spread of the virus is slowed down.

— Leann Poston, MD

Leann Poston, MD, MBA, M.Ed, a medical contributor for Invigor Medical, states several other benefits of operating a school-located immunization vaccination event: 

  • The ability to vaccinate a large group of people at once
  • Having appropriate facilities for this type of event (ideally, either large buildings or outdoors, especially if flu season has already begun)
  • Readily available dispersal of vaccination information to parents 
  • Utilizing school staff to help with the event

Considerations for a SLIV

The key to the success of a SLIV is a community with an already moderately high rate of flu vaccination recipients. In other words, if a community is largely composed of citizens who tend to eschew vaccinations in the first place, a school-located immunization vaccination event may not make a noticeable difference in viral spread. 

Another major factor is whether the strains of virus included in the vaccination happen to match with those circulating in a given year. In the first two years of the Oakland study, the vaccination was not a good match. But once the match was made, hospitalization rates dropped due to lower rates of community spread.

Other factors to consider when deciding whether a SLIV is the right course of action include legal issues like privacy concerns, HIPAA regulations, and whether the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act apply to the vaccination records, Poston says.

What is the Goal of a SLIV? 

In short, the main goal of holding a school-located immunization vaccination event is to give the flu shot to as many people as possible in a given community. Along with reducing the number of illnesses and potential deaths from the flu, the hope is that higher vaccination rates could lead to herd immunity.

According to Poston, “When a certain proportion of the population is protected against a virus via either natural immunity or vaccination, then the spread of the virus is slowed down. Herd immunity helps protect those who are unable to get vaccinated due to health concerns such as immunodeficiency.”

What This Means for You

Once a COVID-19 vaccine is finally available, there may be a push to get as many people vaccinated as possible in a short amount of time. A SLIV could be a great way to make this happen in your community. Since the flu and COVID viruses are similar in nature, we can learn lessons from flu-centric SLIVs that can be applied to any potential future COVID SLIVs.

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  1. Benjamin-Chung J, Arnold BF, Kennedy CJ, et al. Evaluation of a city-wide school-located influenza vaccination program in Oakland, California, with respect to vaccination coverage, school absences, and laboratory-confirmed influenza: a matched cohort study. PLoS Med. 2020;17(8):e1003238. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1003238