New York City soon will require young children who go to preschool or day care to get flu shots.
The city's Board of Health voted Wednesday for the mandatory vaccine for children under 6.
Dr. Jay Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control, said the vaccine could save lives and keep as many as 20,000 city kids from getting sick. He said vaccinations are likely to be performed in the fall of 2014.
The initiative formally takes effect in 30 days.
The vaccine will be required for about 150,000 children, but parents may opt out for medical and religious reasons.
Opponents say mandatory vaccinations give parents little say in determining what's best for their child.
"They basically rubber-stamped it with very little public participation," said John Gilmore, the executive director of the New York-based Autism Action Network. "To force someone to modify their children's body is very, very serious."
Gilmore said the shot does a minimal job of reducing sickness while increasing chances of allergic reactions and other side effects. He said his child suffered neurological damage as a result of several vaccinations administered at once.
His nonprofit organization is now considering a lawsuit against the mandate.
Varma counters that the vaccine is safe and parents concerned about substances in standard vaccines may choose from several other versions of the shot.
With just three weeks to go until Mayor Michael Bloomberg leaves office, the Board of Health voted on rules that would require children to be immunized annually before Dec. 31 if they attend licensed day care or preschool programs.
"Young children have a high risk of developing severe complications from influenza," the board said. "One-third of children under 5 in New York City do not receive an annual influenza vaccination, even though the vaccine safely and effectively protects them against influenza illness."
Four influenza-related deaths were reported in New York City in the past year, Varma said.
Melody Butler, a Long Island pediatric nurse who has four children of her own, said both Connecticut and New Jersey already have similar vaccination laws that have proven effective in lowering flu rates.
Butler said she hopes Long Island and the rest of the state will follow. For now, the vaccination rules only apply to New York City.
In addition to safeguarding a child's health, "you're also protecting members of your family and the community," the nurse said.
She said the possible side effects, including a sore arm or a fever, are rare and mild, while "you never know if your child is going to be that one child going to the pediatric ICU."
Three of her children have been vaccinated; the fourth is still too young.