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Should children be required to get flu vaccines?

Johnson City Press • Jan 8, 2020 at 10:34 AM

According to local doctors, the influenza virus looks like it will be particularly harsh this season.

People started coming down with the illness earlier and quicker than normal this year, and we may be looking at a second peak in cases in the next few weeks.

Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine told reporter Jonathan Roberts last week that the flu was reaching epidemic levels in the region, and he said to expect it to worsen once area children return to school from holiday break and start sharing germs.

And the nasty little bug is nothing to sneeze at. Nationwide, 42.9 million people contracted the flu during the 2018-19 season, 647,000 were hospitalized and 61,200 died. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed influenza and pneumonia as the eighth-leading cause of death in 2017.

Last year, several local school districts closed for short periods of time as students and staff stayed out sick.

Epidemiologists say the best way to build herd immunity, that is protection for a community, not just a single person, is to vaccinate as many people as possible, especially those in vulnerable populations.

Yet, even though doctors recommend everyone medically capable get the vaccine, not everyone does. Mostly, their reluctance is rationalized with myths about the safety and effectiveness of the flu shot.

Two states, Connecticut and New Jersey, and New York City, require children up to 5 years old to get the flu vaccine if they're enrolled in school or child care.

Most states, Tennessee included, require some vaccines for school children with exceptions for religious convictions and medical concerns. In Tennessee, parents must provide proof of immunization against measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis, chicken pox and others.

Some parents may object to required flu vaccines, however. Even the existing immunization requirements sometimes draw criticism from those concerned with personal freedom and the safety of vaccines.

With the problems our region has had with the flu lately, we thought it might be interesting to pose the question. Should school children be required to get flu vaccines?

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