City to require flu shots for preschool

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Flu shot (via USACE)
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Dan Goldberg

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The New York City board of health voted Wednesday morning to require all children between six months and five years old who attend a city-run day care or preschool program to receive a flu shot.

The regulation passed despite overwhelming opposition during the rule's public comment period, from parents, attorneys and activists who expressed concern to the board about the vaccine's alleged side effects.

But despite these protestations, the board of health was unanimous in its approval, citing the importance of vaccines and their benefits to children, who are particularly susceptible to the flu.

“We know it has had a tremendous role in reducing suffering,” said board member Deepthiman Gowda. “I think this is enormously important.”

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Along with new efforts to regulate tanning salons, and a rule requiring hospitals to report to the Division of Mental Hygiene anyone who is admitted with a psychosis diagnosis, the flu vaccine mandate represents the last hurrah of an activist Bloomberg administration that frequently pushed controversial public health policies.

The flu vaccine is no exception. About 90 percent of all comments the health department received were against the proposals.

That did not sway board members, who repeatedly emphasized the safety and efficacy of flu vaccines.

“There is no doubt this will save lives,” said board member Sandro Galea, a renowned epidemiologist.

New Jersey and Connecticut have similar requirements in place.

The city has made a concerted effort to have more children vaccinated. Last winter, about 61 percent of children between 6 months and 5-years were vaccinated a slight increase over the 2012 number.

The health department is targeting children because they are more vulnerable to the effects of the flu and more likely to spread the virus.

For that reason, questions of civil liberties must take a back seat to protecting the health of the community, said deputy health commissioner Jay Varma.

“These rights have limits when an infection can spread among many people,” he said.

Varma stressed the vaccine was safe and that there are no known studie showing a correlation between the vaccine and autism, hyperactivity, eczema or epilepsy - all of which were suggested by opponents of the new rule.

“The most common side effects are those you experience with any immunization,” Varma said, though he conceded there is some evidence linking the vaccine to Guillain-Barré syndrome.

But even the link to Guillain-Barré is tenuous. A12-year retrospective study, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, found no link between the syndrome and the flu vaccine. The National Center for Biotechnology Information reached a similar conclusion