Children attending day care and school-based programs in the city will be required to have an annual flu shot, starting late next year.
New York’s Board of Health voted Wednesday to mandate that children between the ages of 6 and 59 months (almost 5 years old), have the vaccine before Dec. 31, 2014. Children who have not been vaccinated by that time will be barred from schools and day care programs.
The rule affects roughly 150,000 children in New York City.

Drennan Barnes, 3, watches as a nurse takes a measurement of the mark left on her arm after receiving a vaccination during at Emory Children's Center, in Atlanta, Ga., Sept., 2, 2009. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Parents who don’t want their children vaccinated can apply for either a medical or religious exemption through their school or day care center.
Between 10 and 40 percent of children under the age of 5 catch the flu every year, and 1 to 2 percent are hospitalized because of the disease, according to the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). Last year, four children under the age of 5 died from the flu in New York City.
“Day care children are a major source of influenza spread,” Jay Varma, DOHMH deputy commissioner for disease control, told the Board of Health at a meeting in Queens Wednesday.
Varma said numerous studies showed that “herd vaccinating” children lowered flu rates for other age groups, particularly the elderly, who are especially vulnerable.
Besides the flu shot, children entering day care and other school-based programs will be required to have four doses of pneumococcal vaccination. Adding this vaccination to the requirements under the city’s health code brings the city in line with state law, health commissioner Thomas Farley said at the meeting.

Opposition to the Vaccine

The Board of Health received 276 written comments about making the influenza vaccine mandatory. Of those letters, 247 opposed the vaccination. Almost half of those who opposed the vaccinations used an identical form letter, and 25 percent came from outside the city.
Additionally, 19 people testified at a public hearing on Oct. 23, 2013—all opposed to making the vaccines mandatory. The speakers cited worries about potential harmful side effects from toxins in the vaccine, including a concern that the vaccine could be linked to autism.
The DOH states that the link between the vaccine and autism has been discredited in several studies. A department handout stated that the single-dose vaccine, which is most commonly administered to children, does not contain an ethyl-mercury compound linked to autism.
Despite the submissions from the public, the Health Department did not alter the text of the amendments to the health code, which mandates the flu vaccines.

Few Complications With Flu Vaccine

According to the health department the only complications associated with the influenza vaccine were allergic reactions. The vaccine is inactive, unlike the nasal influenza vaccination, which carries minute amounts of the live virus.
“Millions around the United States and millions of children in New York State receive these vaccinations every year. Less than one in a million have complications,” Varma said, noting that the argument came down to civil liberties and people having the choice about what goes in their bodies. “The reality is people don’t want vaccinations because it’s their preference.”
Pamela Briar, a member of the Board of Health, said the public needs more education about the vaccinations. “I think people are generally confused. People have a lot of wacky ideas,” Briar said.

The Vaccination

Flu strains mutate each year and matching strains to the appropriate versions of vaccines can prove a challenge for researchers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the vaccination developed for this year’s flu season is 64 percent effective.
The most vulnerable to influenza are those with weaker immune systems, such as the very young, the elderly, and the chronically ill.
Flu season normally starts in January and runs through March, or sometimes as late as May.
During the 2012–2013 flu season, 65.2 percent of New York City children aged 6–59 months received a flu shot.

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