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Mandatory flu vaccines for preschoolers mandate awaits a new day in court

The 2013 city requirement is waiting to be heard before the New York State Court of Appeals after being struck down twice.

More than 60 children nationwide -- including three

More than 60 children nationwide -- including three in New York City -- have died from the flu so far this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The city is not backing down on its efforts to mandate flu shots for preschoolers.

A 2015 lawsuit by five parents blocked the Health Department from enforcing the requirement. But even after hitting two legal roadblocks, the city continues to challenge those decisions.

The case is waiting to be heard before the New York State Court of Appeals.

Flu shots are currently not on the list of required vaccinations for children, an issue that has surfaced again as the city and the country continue to battle a particularly harsh season.

The flu vaccine requirement, passed by the Board of Health in December 2013, covered preschools and day care centers licensed by the city. But it was struck down by a state Supreme Court judge who said the city did not have the authority to mandate the vaccines. An appellate panel upheld that decision in 2016.

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett pointed out last week that senior citizens and children are at the highest risk of getting seriously — and even fatally — ill from the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 63 children nationwide have died from this flu this season, including three from New York City.

While Bassett would not disclose whether the three city kids were vaccinated or had underlying health issues, she said few fatal pediatric cases are children who had received the flu shot.

“We wanted to make it mandatory in our child care settings,” Bassett said at a news conference last week. “When we did, we had higher vaccine coverage rates in children.”

Bassett said making the vaccine a requirement for school-aged children would have to be decided at the state level.

“I’m going to raise it again with Commissioner Zucker,” she said, referring to state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.

According to the state Health Department, there have been more than 52,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu this season and more than 11,000 people have been hospitalized with the flu across the state.

Children in day care and prekindergarten are currently required to receive several vaccines before they can enter the facilities including shots for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria and pneumococcal disease.

While the lawsuit argued the city didn’t have legal standing to mandate the flu vaccine, the parents also said they thought the requirement was unfair.

In affidavits, several of the parents made similar statements that they were opposed to giving their children the flu shot and that the decision to require the vaccine should have been made by elected lawmakers and not Health Department officials.

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