Children's Health

New Jersey: Tots Need Shots

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The New Jersey Public Health Council voted to make the state the first in the nation to require all preschoolers and day care center attendees to get flu shots.


Parents listening out there, pay attention to New Jersey. Here's why.

Late yesterday, the New Jersey Public Health Council voted to make the state the first in the nation to require all preschoolers and day care center attendees to get flu shots.

Yup. Looks like it's going to be mandatory. Wait, there's more. The state will also require three additional vaccines for kids in middle school and first grade starting on September 1st of next year. The policy still needs to be approved by the state health commissioner, but that's considered a formality at this point.

The measure passed, despite the best efforts of some parents who considered it an intrusion into family medical decisions and concerns about the safety of some of the vaccines.

Now joining us now to give us and all the parents out there some guidance is Dr. Michael Macknin, pediatrician at the Cleveland Clinic.

Hi, doctor.

Dr. MICHAEL MACKNIN (Pediatrician, Cleveland Clinic Foundation): Good morning.

STEWART: Just want to get your opinion. What do you think about this New Jersey proposal?

Dr. MACKNIN: I think it's a fantastic idea. It'll prevent a lot of diseases.

STEWART: Fantastic idea?


STEWART: That's rather strong.

Dr. MACKNIN: Well, the Center for Disease Control voted on the major medical advances of the 20th century, and vaccines were number one.

STEWART: So when you say it'll prevent a host of diseases, just give people a -some perspective, can you explain what you mean when you talk about it will prevent so many?

Dr. MACKNIN: Well, for instance, the pneumococcal vaccine that's recommended for preschoolers will prevent one of the most common causes of meningitis, which is an infection around the brain and spinal cord. It will prevent - help prevent bacterial pneumonias, ear infections. The meningococcal vaccine for the older children - again, another very severe form of meningitis - and diphtheria whooping cough and tetanus. Despite the fact that most people think they're on their way out, whooping cough is actually going up astronomically in our country, and we need to protect the older children who are no longer protected from their earlier preschool vaccines. And influenza affects 10 to 40 percent of all children every year.

STEWART: That's interesting that you mention the whooping cough, because my doctor actually suggested that I get a whooping cough vaccine.


My sister had whooping cough.

STEWART: In 2007, it's surprising that all of this is necessary. I mean, it sounds like we're "Little House on the Prairie."

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Why is that?

Dr. MACKNIN: Well, we're doing a great job. The pneumococcal vaccine, for instance, was introduced in 2000, and a number of cases of invasive disease have dropped over 80 percent since that time. So we're making huge inroads, but these illnesses are so among us, and it's great to help prevent them.

STEWART: Let me talk about this flu shots specifically, and I'm going to ask you to fact check this for me, because it's something I've read, but I want to hear it from a doctor. Does the flu shot contain any amount of mercury?

Dr. MACKNIN: The flu shot for younger children has had the mercury removed. For older children and adults, there is a small amount of mercury, probably less than you'll get in a can of tuna fish.

STEWART: Now, you know that is one of the big concerns voiced by many of these parents who are protesting this mandatory flu shot, concerns about mercury and perhaps links between mercury and autism. Are the parents who are protesting this and concerned about this, do they have a point?

Dr. MACKNIN: I can understand their concern because of the great concern all of us have in regards to autism, but there's no sound medical evidence that the mercury in vaccines is linked to autism.

STEWART: I also wanted to ask you about - you mentioned it briefly in passing, and I'd want to get back to it. The pneumococcal vaccine for preschoolers, is that specifically for pneumonia?

Dr. MACKNIN: It helps prevent pneumonia. It's - pneumococcus is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia. There are actually over 90 different kinds of pneumococci, and they picked the seven most severe types to put into the vaccine. So pneumococcus can cause pneumonia. And before the vaccine was introduced, it was the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in children, also.

STEWART: Are there any concerns in terms of dosage for preschoolers? I know that there's obviously some teenagers that have been getting these vaccines, but when you start talking about little kids, even 6 months old who are going into daycare centers, I can imagine a parent might fear that the dosage might be an issue.

Dr. MACKNIN: These vaccines can all be given in a killed form, so there's nothing alive about the vaccines, and they're extraordinarily safe. If you look at all the vaccines we're giving now - everybody's concerned that we're giving too many vaccines, we're going to overwhelm the immune system. In fact, we've gotten so much better at making vaccines, the total number of proteins in all the vaccines we give is less than 300. And in the past, the whooping cough vaccine had over 3,000 itself. So we're giving much, much less foreign material to children now than we ever did before.

STEWART: Dr. Macknin, should parents be able to opt out of this New Jersey mandatory flu shot just based on philosophical objection?

Dr. MACKNIN: I can certainly understand opting out based on religious objections. Philosophically, it's very difficult for me to understand why you would want to opt out of a vaccine that could protect your child against all these life-threatening illnesses.

STEWART: So what do you recommend a conflicted parent do? They're sitting here, they're listening to this, and they're intellectually understanding everything you're saying. But at the same time, they hear mercury. They think maybe I don't want my child to have to go through this. What would you recommend?

Dr. MACKNIN: I'd recommend they become as informed as they can. I wouldn't pick random Web sites. I'd pick Web sites perhaps such as the American Academy of Pediatrics Web site or the Center for Disease Control Web site, which will give you very sound scientific information about these vaccines. And also talk to your health care professionals.

STEWART: Dr. Michael Macknin, pediatrician at the Cleveland Clinic. Thanks for walking us through it, Doctor.

Dr. MACKNIN: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you.

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