Open Access Research article

An approximation of herd effect due to vaccinating children against seasonal influenza – a potential solution to the incorporation of indirect effects into static models

Ilse Van Vlaenderen1*, Laure-Anne Van Bellinghen1, Genevieve Meier2 and Barbara Poulsen Nautrup3

Author Affiliations

1 CHESS, Kerkstraat 27, 1742, Ternat, Belgium

2 Health Economics, GlaxoSmithKline Vaccines, 2301 Renaissance Boulevard, RN 0220, King of Prussia, PA, 19406, USA

3 EAH-Consulting, Heimbacher Str. 19, 52428, Juelich, Germany

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2013, 13:25  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-13-25

Published: 22 January 2013



Indirect herd effect from vaccination of children offers potential for improving the effectiveness of influenza prevention in the remaining unvaccinated population. Static models used in cost-effectiveness analyses cannot dynamically capture herd effects. The objective of this study was to develop a methodology to allow herd effect associated with vaccinating children against seasonal influenza to be incorporated into static models evaluating the cost-effectiveness of influenza vaccination.


Two previously published linear equations for approximation of herd effects in general were compared with the results of a structured literature review undertaken using PubMed searches to identify data on herd effects specific to influenza vaccination. A linear function was fitted to point estimates from the literature using the sum of squared residuals.


The literature review identified 21 publications on 20 studies for inclusion. Six studies provided data on a mathematical relationship between effective vaccine coverage in subgroups and reduction of influenza infection in a larger unvaccinated population. These supported a linear relationship when effective vaccine coverage in a subgroup population was between 20% and 80%. Three studies evaluating herd effect at a community level, specifically induced by vaccinating children, provided point estimates for fitting linear equations. The fitted linear equation for herd protection in the target population for vaccination (children) was slightly less conservative than a previously published equation for herd effects in general. The fitted linear equation for herd protection in the non-target population was considerably less conservative than the previously published equation.


This method of approximating herd effect requires simple adjustments to the annual baseline risk of influenza in static models: (1) for the age group targeted by the childhood vaccination strategy (i.e. children); and (2) for other age groups not targeted (e.g. adults and/or elderly). Two approximations provide a linear relationship between effective coverage and reduction in the risk of infection. The first is a conservative approximation, recommended as a base-case for cost-effectiveness evaluations. The second, fitted to data extracted from a structured literature review, provides a less conservative estimate of herd effect, recommended for sensitivity analyses.

Paediatric; Vaccination; Influenza; Herd protection; Herd effect; Herd immunity; Modelling; Economic evaluation