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Flu Shots Not Required for NYC Preschool-Age Children, Says NYS Supreme Court

Vaccine for ChildrenChildren attending preschools in New York don’t have to get the flu vaccine after all, according to a decision in Manhattan’s State Supreme Court on Thursday, Dec. 17.

The New York Times reports that Justice Manuel J. Mendez said that the city couldn’t require children to be vaccinated in order to attend city-licensed preschools and daycare centers.

The rule, which was passed in 2013 by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, was a no-go, according to Justice Mendez, because it would require action by the State Legislature to add influenza to the required immunizations list for schools.

Parents across the city filed a lawsuit against the health department, feeling that the rule was unfair.

“Parents across the city who, in consultation with their doctors, made the decision that the risks outweighed the benefits for their particular child, had that right taken away from them by 11 unelected individuals sitting in the Board of Health right across the street,” Aaron Siri, a lawyer for those parents, said in a news conference.

Critics of the legislation ranged from those who said their children’s physicians called the flu shot unnecessary to outspoken anti-vaccine critics who believe, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, that vaccines cause autism.

But health officials are unhappy with the decision, which would have affected around 150,000 of the city’s children between the ages of six months and five years.

“I am extremely disappointed by today’s decision,” Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the city’s health commissioner, said in a statement. “Influenza kills an average of 24,000 people each year in the United States, and the virus is spread easily in child care settings to children and their families. The vaccination requirement will save lives.”

Getting vaccinated against the flu protects from cold symptoms, fever, and respiratory infections, which can make life difficult for kids with compromised immune systems or conditions such as asthma. Asthma patients already face significant health risks, and one study found that they have a nearly 40% greater chance of developing sleep apnea than those without asthma.

However, the ruling not only helps parents and children who are unable to receive the vaccine but those who operate preschools and daycare centers in New York. The rule would have forced principals and daycare owners to turn away unvaccinated children or else risk a fine between $200 to $2,000 for breaking the law.

While the ruling didn’t touch on the debate over the validity of vaccines, it did say that the city have overstepped its authority in requiring parents to get flu shots for the children. City health officials plan to appeal the ruling.