Mandatory flu shots in NYC draw ire of some parents
Say DOH ‘Exceeded its authority, just like with the big soda cups’
The New York City Department of Health voted on Wednesday to approve Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s bill to mandate annual flu and pneumococcus shots for preschool and daycare kids.
“This mandate will help protect the health of young children, while reducing the spread of influenza in New York City,” the Health Department said in a statement.
A group of concerned parents, however, is protesting the requirement, which goes into effect in 30 days.
The Autism Action Network objects to the shots based on what they say is the ineffectiveness of the flu vaccine, and the possibility of side effects, some of them serious.
Flu vaccine’s effectiveness varies from year to year and from person to person. Last year’s flu shot was about 64 percent effective in children and 27 percent effective in people 65 and older, according to the CDC. (The vaccine was almost totally ineffective in seniors against one particular flu variety, flu type A H3N2).
John Gilmore, executive director of the Autism Action Network, says that parents and their doctors should be making “an informed decision” to vaccinate kids against the flu, not the city.
He told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday, “With any vaccine there are risks involved. There are allergic reactions, you can get the disease itself, and the flu shot in particular is known to cause Guillain-Barré syndrome.”
Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disorder in which a person’s own immune system damages their nerve cells, according to the CDC, which acknowledges that there is a very slight risk of developing the syndrome after an influenza vaccination.
Gilmore said parents were also concerned about the addition of mercury to the flu vaccine. Unlike other vaccines, about half of the influenza vaccine produced in the U.S. contains mercury in the form of thimerosal, a disinfectant.
“In the U.S. we’re using obsolete technology for the flu vaccine, which is multi-dose vials containing mercury disinfectant,” Gilmore said. A child receiving this version of the flu vaccine “gets at least 25 micrograms of mercury, a whopping dose for a kid. Given the typical 32-pound three-year-old, that’s 17 times as much mercury as the maximum limit for a full-grown adult.”
Gilmore did not draw a link between thiomersal and the development of autism, an idea that once held sway among parents of autistic children. Mainstream scientists have generally debunked any connection.
Mercury is known to be highly toxic to humans, especially youngsters. It can attack the heart, lungs, immune system and central nervous system, and lower children’s IQ. A large percentage of mercury in the North East’s environment comes from coal-fired plants, and residents are warned not to regularly eat fish from New York State rivers and streams.
While some research indicates that thiomersal exits the body faster than other forms of mercury, potentially causing less harm, the FDA says it is in discussions with the manufacturers of influenza vaccines to reduce or eliminate its use in flu shots. (Some formulations of the vaccine along with FluMist, which is inhaled, do not contain the disinfectant.)
Pharmaceutical companies have been promising mercury-free flu shots for years but haven’t delivered, Gilmore says. “How are parents going to know? Tons of kids will be exposed to mercury. Mercury is bad in water and food but it’s OK in vaccines?”
Parents are also upset, Gilmore said, because, “The only way parents can stop the vaccine is to get a medical or religious exemption, something that is almost impossible in New York City because [Mayor] Bloomberg has imposed a numerical quota for exemptions.”
Regardless of its imperfections, medical experts recommend that children over the age of six months get the flu shots, saying the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Influenza’s complications can be severe, and include pneumonia, acute respiratory failure, and encephalitis. Children under the age of five are now considered to be at high risk.
According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, influenza kills about 100 kids a year and hospitalizes roughly 20,000. The majority of children who die from the flu have not been vaccinated. So far this flu season three flu-related pediatric deaths have been reported, according to the CDC.
Gilmore counters that the flu vaccine’s benefits have been overblown, and that Mayor Bloomberg’s mandate is illegal. “We think Department of Health wildly exceeded its authority, just like with the big soda cups. We’re looking at filing a lawsuit.”
Late on Wednesday, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio spokesperson Lis Smith told the Brooklyn Eagle, “Mayor-elect de Blasio and his team are reviewing the proposal, but are supportive of proactive policies that promote public health.”