By LINDA A. JOHNSON
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Parents concerned about possible vaccine dangers and government intrusion are trying to block New Jersey from becoming the first state to require flu shots for preschoolers.
The Public Health Council on Monday is set to consider whether New Jersey should require flu shots as well as three additional vaccines. If approved, New Jersey would become the first state to require annual flu shots for children attending licensed preschool or day care centers.
State health department officials also want to require a pneumococcal vaccine for preschoolers, a booster shot to fight whooping cough for sixth-graders, and meningitis shots for school children as young as 11.
According to deputy health commissioner Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, the new requirements already have been approved by the state health department and Gov. Jon S. Corzine; they are expected to be rubber-stamped by the Council on Monday.
Bresnitz said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports the new requirements and that public health officials in other states are watching and likely to follow suit.
Bresnitz said he’s convinced the vaccines will reduce the incidence of the diseases, preventable hospitalizations, and the need for parents to stay home with sick children.
“It’s a great day for public health in New Jersey,” he said.
But some parents say there is inadequate proof the vaccines are safe and effective.
At a Statehouse news conference Friday, about a dozen parents protested the new requirements and urged people to call the governor’s office to ask him to stop Monday’s vote.
“This will be the first jurisdiction anywhere in the world to make the flu shot mandatory” for school attendance, said Jon Gilmore, a board member of Advocates for Children’s Health Affected by Mercury Poisoning, or ACHAMP. He blames his 7-year-old son’s autism on vaccines.
Bresnitz said he didn’t know whether jurisdictions outside this country have required flu shots for school kids.
Parents on Friday also urged support for a bill that would give parents a right to “philosophical objection” to vaccine mandates. The bill has been sitting in a committee for four years without action.
“It is not right for the government and unelected councils to dictate what we put into our children,” said Sue Collins, co-founder of the New Jersey Alliance for Informed Choice in Vaccination.
Corzine, asked about the mandates Friday, said he didn’t “want to speak to the specifics.”
Several parents noted that unlike other common vaccines, most of the influenza vaccine available contains mercury, a toxic heavy metal that has been widely blamed by parents as a cause of autism, despite the lack of any such evidence.
A few speakers also said there’s no research showing that it is safe to give children all the vaccines required today — more than 30 for New Jersey children.
“They’re really being treated as guinea pigs, and not all children can handle all vaccines,” said Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk, R-Bergen, sponsor of the philosophical objection bill.
The new vaccines New Jersey backs are recommended by the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical groups.
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