A recent study published in PLOS ONE reveals that giving flu shots to schoolchildren can also protect others.

Lead author of the study Cuc Tran says, “The effect of school-based vaccination was profound, both on the students and on the community.” Half of the children ages 5 to 17 years in Alachua County, Fla, were administered seasonal flu vaccinations through a school-based program, and the results of the study showed that the flu rate in the entire age group fell by 79%.

In addition, the flu rate among children ages 4 and younger decreased by 89%, although they were not included in the vaccination program. Among all non-school-aged residents in the county, the flu rate declined 60%. A University of Florida news release notes that the findings may help communities determine how best to target funding, doses of flu vaccine, and awareness campaigns to protect the greatest number of people from the flu.

The researchers explain that there are a number of reasons to make schoolchildren the focus of flu prevention. Children at school tend to get sick longer and are also more likely to spread the flu virus and infect others because of poor hygiene habits. Children also tend to have contact with more people than most adults, according to researchers.

The research team says this season’s flu shot isn’t a good match for all of the circulating strains of influenza, though infectious-disease experts are encouraging people to get the flu shot anyway. Carolyn Bridges, MD, of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, states, “Even the partial protection is worth it because of the number of deaths and number of hospitalizations that can occur from H3N2.”

Sources: Medical Xpress, University of Florida