Toddlers and little children returning to school this week will unknowingly become the focus of an emotional debate between public health advocates and child health advocates.
December 31st was the deadline for parents to obtain flu vaccines for their children in New Jersey, the first state to require the inoculations, despite objections by many parents who worry about the risks association with vaccinations.
“Stopping flu transmission among kids will stop flu transmission in the community at large,” said Dr. Tina Tan, the state epidemiologist to the New York Times.
Children impacted are those between the ages of six months and five years. They must be enrolled in a licensed day care or preschool problem. Unless there is proof they have received the flu shot, they will be excluded from school.
A lag time of two weeks will be extended to allow children to schedule a doctor’s visit , said state health officials.
Children were targeted as they are likely to spread influenza among themselves and other adults. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 86 children died from flu-related complications.
This is not the only vaccine required in New Jersey. Preschoolers must be inoculated against the germ that causes pneumonia; sixth graders must receive a vaccine against meningitis and a tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis booster.
Parents have banded together to protest the mandate. New Jersey Coalition for Vaccination Choice held a rally in Trenton, New Jersey insisting that parents be the ones who decide on their children’s vaccination schedule, not the state.
“There’s a huge trust gap between parents and public health officials right now,” said Louise Kuo Habakus, who is a parent and spokeswoman for the group. “These are our kids. We’re stakeholders. You have to give us a say in this debate.”
There is currently not any exemption for parents who feel strongly their children shouldn’t fall under the mandate. The group supports the passage of A260/S1071, legislation that will provide a conscientious belief exemption to mandatory vaccination.
The Food and Drug Administration has a list of which influenza vaccines contain the mercury based preservative, thimerosal. A check of their web site can help parents identify which have no thimerosal or trace amounts, though no safe level for thimerosal has been established.
On the other side of the issue, Families Fighting Flu Inc. is a group of parents who lost their young children suddenly to influenza. #