BY JOE MARVILLI
Young children will now have another shot they have to get for the first few years of their lives. The City Board of Health has approved annual, mandatory influenza vaccines for children younger than 5 years old who are attending preschool or daycare.
The board voted unanimously on Dec. 11 to approve the measure, which will go into effect next season and will be required for around 150,000 children in the City. The new rule is the latest, if not the last, of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s health initiatives for the City.
The Board of Health approved the requirement to try and slow the spread of influenza. According to the Board of Health, 10 to 40 of every 100 children under the age of 5 years old will develop influenza. Children who receive the vaccine are 60 percent less likely to need a healthcare visit due to influenza.
Besides protecting children from influenza, the move would also help protect the child’s family and friends from getting the disease, particularly in a daycare or at home.
“Sometimes what you see in the children spreads to their own household. Your kid is sick, you’re going to be sick,” Dr. Sorana Segal-Maurer, director of the Dr. James J. Rahal Jr. Infectious Disease Division at New York Hospital Queens, said. “It takes two months for everyone in the household to be well.”
The doctor added that NYHQ’s pharmacy was very proactive in buying thousands of vaccines for the upcoming flu season, which is typically at its worst between January and March.
Last year was a particularly bad influenza season, with four children in the City dying from the disease, according to the BOH. In Segal-Maurer’s own personal opinion, she said this statistic may have been part of the reason for the push for mandatory vaccination by the board.
“We already do vaccinate kids. It’s required for measles, whopping cough, chickenpox and mumps. Flu unfortunately kills more than all of those things put together in kids,” Bloomberg said during his weekly segment with WOR 710’s radio host John Gambling.
The standard flu vaccine is made from flu viruses that have been grown in fertilized chicken eggs. There are two types of vaccines: a flu shot that contains inactive or killed virus particles or a nasal spray that contains a weakened virus. As a result, the vaccine cannot give someone the flu.
“Flu vaccines are made the same way each year and their safety is closely monitored by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal Food and Drug Administration,” the BOH said in a FAQ document on its website. “Hundreds of millions of flu vaccines have been given safely.”
Not everyone is on board with the new requirement though. Some parents, community leaders and elected officials have said the choice should remain with the child’s guardian, rather than coming from the City.
“I believe the choice should be up to the parents, not mandated by the government,” Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), a member of the City Council’s health committee, said.
Parents can contact their child’s medical provider or find a clinic to receive the vaccination. To locate a clinic by borough, go to www.nyc.gov/flu or call 311. For parents concerned with finances, all children in New York State have access to free and/or low-cost vaccines.
“I can speak as a parent. Influenza’s a severe disease and any potential risk is outweighed by benefits,” Segal-Maurer said. “Treatment is sometimes hard to do. Prevention is much easier.”
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Joey788.