• Fri, Dec 13 - 8:00 am ET

NYC Schools Declare ‘No Flu Shot, No Admittance’ But This Time Bloomberg Went Too Far

shutterstock_81311695I am a huge Michael Bloomberg fan.  I think what he’s done for New York City has been incredible.  His gun control policies have made us safer and his limits on smoking areas are preserving the environment (and potential harms of second hand smoke).  I am totally on board with his Latch-On program (noting that it is only intended for women who came into the hospital intending to breastfeed) and thought his size limits on soda made perfect sense. But his latest fly-by-night measure rubs me the wrong way.

In his final initiative during his tenure as NYC Mayor, Bloomberg proposed that all children between the ages of six months and five years attending city-licensed preschools and day cares must receive the flu vaccine.  His plan was approved by the Board of Health, but it wasn’t without opposition.

“The Bloomberg administration is wildly exaggerating the benefit of the flu shot and we think they are wildly underestimating the risks involved with it,” said John Gilmore, the executive director of the Autism Action Network.

“There are risks associated with every medical procedure,” he said, citing allergic reactions, toxic mercury used as a preservative and questions as to whether the Board’s move is legal given state government jurisdictions.

I’m not an anti-vaxxer and my kids have had all the other vaccines required by the NYC Board of Education, but a mandatory flu shot makes me squirm.  The flu vaccine is not the same as the major deadly disease vaccinations like measles or polio.  If you completely set aside the link between autism and vaccines (which we know doesn’t exist), the flu shot has actually had legitimate issues.  Kids who are allergic to a whole host of things have had issues with various strains of the flu shot, and most recently it has been discovered that a child with a gelatin allergy can suffer anaphylaxis.

Those risks aren’t outweighed by the questionable effectiveness of the vaccination.  As recently as last flu season, Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, spoke out against the flu shot:

“We have overpromoted and overhyped this vaccine,” said Dr. Osterholm. “It does not protect as promoted. It’s all a sales job: it’s all public relations.”

“I’m an insider,” Dr. Osterholm said. “Until we started this project, I was one of the people out there heavily promoting influenza vaccine use. It was only with this study that I looked and said, ‘What are we doing?’

Specifically, Dr. Osterholm and his team discovered “a recurring error in influenza vaccine studies that led to an exaggeration of the vaccine’s effectiveness.”

Not to mention there is no discussion about who is going to pay for these shots.

Making flu shots available at school?  Great.  Strongly recommending every child have one?  Super.  Sending home literature with their children so that parents can make informed decisions?  I love it.  But mandatory flu shots?  I can’t get behind it.

(photo: Marlon Lopez MMG1 Design/Shutterstock)

You can reach this post's author, Carinn Jade, on twitter.
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  • Alicia Kiner

    I think anytime you make something mandatory, there’s going to be trouble. Even the measles and polio vaccines, and the like, have exceptions to the rule. And while I know doctors say you can’t get the flu from the shot, my kids and husband get sick with flu-like symptoms within three days of getting the vaccine. Three years in a row is a pretty strong coincidence.

    • lea

      You absolutely cannot get the flu from the flu shot. What you can get, however, are more mild flu like symptoms to the vaccine.

      The symptoms are your immune system responding to the vaccine and building your immunity. Your body recognised the antigens in the vaccine and responds in a similar way to if it were the virus itself. But you don’t get an active viral infection and all of the potential complications and illness that come with that.

      Hope that makes sense, and eases your mind a bit.

      I really wish doctors would explain this to their patients.

    • NicknamesAreDull

      Thank you!

    • Andrea

      Thank you for explaining it, but I guess to me, it’s the same thing. Whether I’m out of commission with “flu-like” symptoms or with the actual flu, I still feel like shit.

      Not that I am advocating against the shot. I’m really not. And I don’t have the same issues as the author does about making it mandatory.

    • Rachel Sea

      Flu-like symptoms are nowhere near as bad as the flu, because they won’t hurt you. I wear hearing aids because a flu damaged my hearing.

    • Andrea

      I suppose not. I guess if I lived in NY, I’d suck it up and do it, but I don’t see much benefit for me to get the flu shot. I’ve never had the flu and I am not particularly at risk of catching it or infecting vulnerable others (I don’t work with children or the elderly or anyone immuno-defficient)

    • pixie

      I tried to tell my boyfriend’s mom this, but she’s one of those people who is hell bent on insisting she gets the flu from the flu shot. Never mind the fact that with a lot of illnesses, like the cold and the flu, there is always a good chance of contracting it several days before the first symptoms begin to appear.

    • Alicia Kiner

      I also failed to point out that the last 3 years, my children have gotten the Flu-mist vaccine.. the nasal spray. This is the live virus version, not the dead virus that’s in the shot. I don’t know what that does as far as them getting sick. Obviously, they aren’t getting terribly sick, ie they miss a day or two of school and then are fine, or I would stop allowing it, and requesting the shot. I’m one of those people that figures getting a little sick is better for immune system in the long run. I just hate seeing them sick. But thank you for explaining it, all I’ve ever heard is you can’t get the flu from the vaccine.

    • pineapplegrasss

      the flu-mist made my son very sick 2 years in a row, and last year it was recommended to get 2 flu vacs. I’m not really sure why. And he got really really sick the 2nd time that season. I decided to skip it this year, but I’m kinda scared now, wondering if the vaccine made him that sick, would he be one of the little ones that gets hospitalized, or worse, if he gets the actual flu?

    • Maddi Holmes

      “Live virus” and “dead virus” are terms that really should not be used. Viruses are generally considered to be non-living (or pseudo-living). What should be used is “attenuated” or “inactivated” vaccines. Attenuated vaccines (like flumist and many other vaccines) still cannot cause a full on flu. Attenuated vaccines contain active viruses that are still able to invade the tissues of the host, however the rate of virus reproduction is severely decreased. Attenuated vaccines often provide greater immunity with less booster shots as the virus continues to exist within the body for a longer period of time and the immune system is able to recognise and remember it better (immunity). Inactivated vaccines are just as they sound, the vaccine is unable to invade host cells and reproduce. This is why inactivated vaccines often require boosters, as the body destroys the inactive viruses before being able to fully recognise and remember the virus and re-exposure helps counteract this.

      Attenuated vaccines will only cause the infection in people with compromised immune systems (elderly or suffers of certain diseases). The flu-like symptoms both vaccines can cause are actually not due to the virus invading cells at all. Flu-like symptoms (runny nose, fever, swelling etc) are a result of the body’s first line of defense (which does not involve the immune system). These symptoms occur when the body recognises an organism or virus as simply ‘foreign’ or ‘not-self’ and are merely the first efforts to remove the invader from the system. When the first line of defense fails, that is when you begin to develop immunity from the immune system. Developing immunity is the purpose of vaccines so they must be created in a way that prevents them being removed by the first line of defense. This is why many people suffer from flu-like symptoms from both vaccines.

      Hope that cleared some things up for you, I’m sorry it’s such a long comment though.

  • chickadee

    Perhaps he’s worried about the wide swath a flu bug could cut in the public schools, which are overcrowded. I would be in favor of this IF the schools then provided the vaccine and if parents whose children cannot take it for medical reasons get a pass.

    • Tinyfaeri

      I can’t see how they could legally force a child with allergies that could cause them serious harm if they were given the shot to get it, and I would hope they paid for it. I also don’t think people take flu seriously enough – thousands of people die every flu season from either flu or complications related to it. I was hospitalized for dehydration secondary to flu 3 times when I was a kid (ages 4-9) for anywhere from 3 days to a full week, and the week required another week of recovery. A few years later I missed 2 weeks of school and dropped 20% of my bodyweight, but stayed out of the hospital. It’s not just a pain in the ass and a few days off work for some people. No, the flu vaccine isn’t perfect – it can’t be, because flu strains are mutating every second. It’s a best educated guess as to which strains are going to be the most common in a given season… but it’s way better than nothing (what I was getting when I was a kid).

    • Carinn Jade

      Sounds like you are a perfect candidate for the flu shot, but making it mandatory for every single child between 6 months and 5 years is a one-size fits all approach. I’m all for educating parents and strong recommendations, however mandatory crosses the line. It’s the city telling parents that they know better, rather than the support or thoughtful choices his other policies have previously encouraged.

    • TngldBlue

      I’m curious why you consider this a one sized fits all approach and the city telling parents that they know better but don’t feel the same way about the city limiting the size soda people can purchase?

    • Carinn Jade

      No one was forced to have to do anything in those previous initiatives. The smoking laws (inside and out) informed people where they could and couldn’t smoke. Latch on didn’t prevent mothers who opted for formula to have it, only supported those who choose to breastfeed. The soda limited purchase in one container (though you could buy as many of those as you wanted). They all left parents/people with choices. This is a mandatory vaccination for everyone. I don’t think it’s the same at all.

    • TngldBlue

      But it’s not for everyone. He’s not requiring you to get a flu shot. It really is no different than what public schools across the country require, it’s just widening the net. There are still medical & religious exceptions allowed. Do you feel the same about the vaccination requirement to attend public school?

    • Tinyfaeri

      Like… a large soda is bad, but up to an ounce of weed is good? Schools have made vaccines mandatory before: the HPV vaccine and other vaccines are mandatory (with exceptions, as I’m sure this “mandatory” would be as well) for a child to attend public school in a lot of areas. Do you seriously think that a child with a valid medical reason to not get the shot would be tied down and forced to get it, risk of death be damned?

    • CBillard

      I can’t agree with you enough. The elderly really struggle from the flu – usually it leads to pneumonia and that’s not a minor illness for an old person. The flu can set a cancer patient back weeks (if not months) on their treatments. I wish people would see the bigger picture with vaccinations.

    • NicknamesAreDull

      The elderly, patients who are immuno-suppressed and other high-risk patients are told to get the vaccine.

    • Alicia Kiner

      Wasn’t The Stand based off the idea that most of the world’s population died of a super flu? I mean, it’s a book, fiction, but it’s not THAT far-fetched.

    • Tinyfaeri

      Yep, it was. Captain Tripps, I think.

    • TngldBlue

      I do think many people underestimate it and how devastating it can be. I hear all the time “oh I have the flu” when what the person really had is just a nasty winter cold. So the term is thrown around a lot leading people to believe it just isn’t that bad.

  • Bethany Ramos

    This is a subject I get pretty irritated about, and I do vaccinate. My son is allergic to eggs and can’t get the flu shot, but I was on the fence about it. There’s so much research pointing to the ineffectiveness of the shot in general and how it works the same as a placebo in kids under 2.

    However, I did give my 6 mo a flu shot this year because the doc always pressures us to, and he’s very healthy. Ugh, seems like you can’t win.

    • Armchair Observer

      It doesn’t look like kids with allergies are going to be forced to have the vaccine. I can’t have the pertussis part of the required vaccines due to severe allergies to the medicines used to treat pertussis (whooping cough). Every year of school–even university–I would have to submit a doctor’s note and I was fine. Thankfully, my peers were/are vaccinated against pertussis, so I only slightly fear getting it…well, until the current anti-vax mania.

  • lea

    For the love of can we PLEASE stop mentioning the now well and truly debunked vaccine-autism thing? I know you mention it here to say exactly that (i.e. that it is an untruth), but that really doesn’t have to be reiterated in every vaccination article for ever and ever more. I feel like it just keeps the whole debacle fresh in the media when it just needs to DIE already!!! ARRRGGGHHHH!!

    • Leah

      Or you know, don’t quote the director of the Autism Action Network because given the fact that there is no link between autism and vaccines and he is not a medical professional, his opinion is no more relevant than ours.

  • NYBondLady

    Can we please also focus on the supposed benefits/outcome of people getting the flu shot? Like, will someone show me that flu cases decline when more people get it? Or we have less hospitalizations? SOMETHING??
    My pediatrician is anti-flu vaccine. She feels that it’s not even that effective at targeting the right strains of flu.
    Also, I don’t want to bring up the whole autism thing, but I just don’t think all the research is there yet for pregnant women receiving the flu shot, especially in the early stages of fetal development (seriously, google “seasonality and autism” if you dare). Just makes you pause.
    I’m passing.

    • CBillard

      I just saw something yesterday (can’t remember where, so don’t have a link), that said 80,000 hospitalizations were prevented with only a 45% flu vaccination rate.

    • NYBondLady

      I also just saw something that said that on a good year, only 17-18% of flu cases are prevented with the flu shot. Sounds low to me.

    • Maddi Holmes

      Please research how a vaccine works and explain to me how an organism using it’s immune system could cause issues with neural pathways? These parts of the body are not linked.

    • Mikster

      Actually,this is a respected study and says it doesn’t: http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD001269/vaccines-to-prevent-influenza-in-healthy-adults
      ” Vaccine use did not affect the number of people hospitalised or working
      days lost but caused one case of Guillian-Barré syndrome (a major
      neurological condition leading to paralysis) for every one million
      vaccinations.”

  • NicknamesAreDull

    My daughter has seizures from the flu vaccine. But at least she won’t get the flu, because there’s nothing worse than that! /s

    • Tinyfaeri

      I seriously doubt that they would make your daughter, who gets seizures if she has the shot, get the shot. Ditto someone with a severe allergic reaction to the shots. With every “mandatory” thing there are always exceptions for individuals who just can’t do it.

  • pixie

    Not so random question, but does anyone know if the flu shot in the US is different from the flu shot in Canada?
    I know there are different acceptances/laws as to what’s allowed in terms of drugs (we only recently got Aleve up here and I’m pretty sure the ingredients are a little different). I have gotten the flu shot most years and felt fine afterwards (only years I didn’t get it is if I was sick at the time the were holding clinics because some won’t give you the shot if you already have a cold). That being said, it’s also covered up here so we don’t have to pay for it.

  • Carolina

    Why in the heck would you quote someone from the Autism Action Network? That link has been debunked nine ways from Saturday, as you note. So why quote them?
    And the flu is a deadly disease. Especially to the elderly, children, and pregnant women.

  • Lindsey

    The flu causes around 30,000 deaths in the US each year. Last year 64 children died and each year, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to the flu. Last year’s flu shot was about 60% effective, but that number improves dramatically with more vaccinated people. There is no better case for herd immunity than diseases like the flu which are easily spread and dangerous, especially to those with weakened immune systems.

    Why is it to far to require a vaccine against the flu, but not against the chicken pox?

    • NicknamesAreDull

      I can’t speak for the author, but I’m against a mandated chicken pox vaccine. I don’t think parents should be forced to vaccinate their children. I am all for vaccines, I think they’re great; I joke with my husband that I want vaccines for my vaccine. But, I don’t think they should be mandated.

    • Lindsey

      Schools have the right and the responsibility to protect their students, including against other students’ illnesses. That’s why most schools have a policy that no child with a fever can attend, in order to stop the spread of disease.

    • Rachel Sea

      Why are you against the chicken pox vaccine? It prevents death and permanent disability, same as the MMR and the TDaP.

    • NicknamesAreDull

      I’m not against the vaccine; I am against people being mandated to get it.

      I do not think the government has any right to decide what goes into people’s bodies. It is the patient’s or the guardian’s right to choose what goes or doesn’t go into their body.

      When I chose to let my daughter get the flu shot, and she had an adverse reaction, it was my burden to bear. If the government told me to vaccinate my child, and something happened to her, the person making the mandate wouldn’t care. She would be a statistic.

      Just because I don’t think someone should be mandated to inject something into their body doesn’t mean I don’t support the vaccine itself. I think people should have the right to choose what they put into their bodies.

    • Rachel Sea

      When vaccines are optional all of society suffers. Maybe the flu vaccine isn’t effective enough to have the mandate be worthwhile, but the chicken pox, MMR, and TDaP are.

    • Maddi Holmes

      Research up on “herd immunity” and you’ll understand why mandating vaccines is necessary.

    • NicknamesAreDull

      Research up on “I don’t want the government mandating that I put something in my body” so you can understand why I don’t think we should give politicians that much control over our lives.

    • Maddi Holmes

      I think it should be up to the school to mandate it, but personally I would not be sending my children to a school that does not require students to be vaccinated (not so much the flu vaccine) because my child doesn’t deserve to get a serious but preventable disease due to other children breaking down herd immunity BY CHOICE and my child being one of the few people that certain vaccines might not work for.

  • Paul White

    This is really just an extension of the mindset that makes his other policies seem appealing to him though. It’s the “We know best, and so we’ll dictate as much as possible to you” crap. It’s just this time you disagree with him.

    • Fabel

      Yes, yes, yes. I wanted to comment something similar, but the only words I could think of were ones that would make me sound like a frothing libertarian (“nanny-state”), which isn’t an entirely accurate description of me or my views. But I’m with your statement, here.

    • Paul White

      Yeah, I’m hardly in the big-L libertarian camp (I like roads, public schools, public justice systems, etc). But pretedening that this somehow is not 100% in alignment with the mindset exhibited by Bloomberg so far baffles me.

      This is EXACTLY what it looks like once you’re OK with government making decisions about how you live your life. People seem to be OK with it so long as they agree with the decrees, but watch out, because as soon as they don’t agree, THEN it becomes overreach.

      Then, quoting someone from the Autism Network….ew. Credible sources and spokespeople MATTER and that’s neither.

    • Carinn Jade

      I totally disagree! No one was forced to have to do anything in those previous initiatives. The smoking laws (inside and out) informed people where they could and couldn’t smoke. Latch on didn’t prevent mothers who opted for formula to have it, only supported those who choose to breastfeed. The soda limited purchase in one container (there was no one saying you couldn’t by 4 100 oz sodas). They all left parents/people with choices. This is a mandatory vaccination for everyone. I just don’t see how it’s the same.

    • Paul White

      No one had their behavior dictated to them? Really?

      Saying I can’t own a firearm, or smoke in a private establishment, is dictating my behavior.

      Telling me I can’t buy a soda of a certain size isn’t dictating my behavior and limiting my choices?

    • Carinn Jade

      The question is not whether you can engage in those activities or not — it is a matter of where or when. I agree with you that choices have been limited in all those other cases and I’m ok with that. The difference in the flu shot is that we’re left with NO choice. Or not one I can see.

    • Alex

      Your choice is to not send your child to a NYC-licensed daycare or preschool, one that you’re apparently NOT ok with.

    • Tinyfaeri

      The real difference seems to be that you agree with the other mandates and support them, and do not agree with this one.

    • Alex

      If your Bloomberg-approved initiatives are “choices”, then so is this one; you are not forced to send your child to a NYC-licensed daycare or preschool, so the “mandatory” vaccine doesn’t apply to everyone.

      … then what are you angry about?

    • Carinn Jade

      I don’t think getting an education is a “choice” in NYC. I don’t think you are saying it is a “choice” to go to public school or pay $40,000 a year for a private school education (which by the way, the application process is closed for at this point in time). If you are, none of those other “choices” come with a free vs. $40k price tag.

    • Paul White

      It’s still a choice–just like I could choose to never live in NYC due to Bloomberg’s other policies (and that is, in fact, my choice).

  • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Maria Guido

    I’m with you, Carinn.

  • Rachel Sea

    Can you please not quote some autism quack about vaccines? There is no link, and there is no toxic mercury.

  • Seidhr

    So it’s okay for Bloomberg to “nanny state” the things you don’t approve of people doing but not ones where you’d like to be able to make your own decisions on? Makes sense to me!

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