MANHATTAN — Children who attend preschool or daycare in the city will be required to get the annual flu vaccine starting for next year’s flu season.
The city’s Board of Health voted unanimously Wednesday to require the flu shot or “flumist” nasal spray for all children under the age of 5.
Any school that fails to show documentation of a child’s vaccine will be subject to fines, and kids who don’t have proof of the vaccine starting from Dec. 31, 2014, can be kicked out of their programs until they provide proof, the Health Department said.
As with other immunizations, exemptions will only be given for valid medical or religious reasons.
Young children are particularly vulnerable to complications from the virus, with four children in the city dying from the flu in 2012, Health Department officials said. Kids are a source of infection for the entire community, often passing the illness to other children and family members, officials added.
“One-third of children under five in New York City do not receive an annual influenza vaccination, even though the vaccine safely and effectively protects them against influenza illness,” according to a statement from the Health Department. “This mandate will help protect the health of young children, while reducing the spread of influenza in New York City.”
Kids who receive the vaccine are 60 percent less likely to need medical attention for the flu, health officials said.
The new rule requires children in daycare or preschool between the ages of 6 months and 5 years be immunized against the flu each year before Dec. 31, since the vaccine only provides protection for one flu season.
All children in the city have access to free and low-cost vaccines, health officials noted.
Though scientific studies have found the vaccine to be safe for children, some parents have protested the measure, citing fears that the use of mercury — a preservative used in some flu vaccines — is toxic to children.
“This is an unnecessary, potentially dangerous, and expensive policy,” according to a call to action from the Autism Action Network, a group that led a protest Tuesday against the initiative.
Studies, however, have discredited the link between autism and mercury, health officials noted.