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N.J. nears mandated preschool flu shots

/ Source: The Associated Press

New Jersey moved toward becoming the first state to require flu shots for preschoolers on Monday after a health advisory board backed new vaccine mandates over the opposition of worried parents.

The Public Health Council voted to require New Jersey children attending preschool or licensed day care to get annual flu shots, and to get three additional vaccines for youngsters starting Sept. 1, 2008.

No other state requires preschool, day care or older students to get flu shots, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The state's health commissioner, Dr. Fred M. Jacobs, has until Dec. 18 to sign off on the mandates, though they have already been approved by Gov. Jon S. Corzine. Health Department spokesman Tom Slater said Jacobs was expected sign off on the proposal.

Besides the flu shots, New Jersey also will require preschoolers to get a pneumococcal vaccine and sixth-graders to get a whooping cough booster shot and a meningitis shot.

"Implementation of these rules will save lives and prevent disease and suffering in children, their families and the community," deputy health commissioner Dr. Eddy Bresnitz told the council Monday.

The Council voted in favor of the requirements 5-2 with 1 abstention, with member Dennis San Filippo saying he would like to see studies done on whether it's safe for young children to get so many doses of different vaccines.

All four vaccines are recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical groups.

Parents concerned about possible dangers of the new vaccines and government intrusion in family medical decisions have been trying to block the new shots.

They note that flu vaccines contain trace amounts of mercury, a toxic heavy metal, and that mercury-free shots can be difficult to obtain.

According to the CDC and other scientific groups, there's no convincing evidence the trace amounts of mercury in flu shots cause harm.

Following the vote on Monday, concerned parents said they will keep urging support for a bill that would give parents a right to a "philosophical objection" to vaccine mandates, as many other states have.

The new vaccines will be available for free for low-income families through the federal Vaccines for Children program, and private insurers generally will cover the cost, Bresnitz said.