Young children will not be turned away from preschool and day care in January if their parents cannot find them a seasonal flu shot by the end of the year, the state health commissioner said today as New Jersey suspended a law requiring the inoculations. The decision gives panicky parents a break should they be unable to comply with the year-old state law that requires children ages 6 months to just under 5 years old to get vaccinated by Dec. 1 if they plan to attend preschool or day care. Pediatricians, health officers and parents have complained the seasonal flu shot is as elusive as the H1N1, or swine flu, vaccine, Health and Senior Services Commissioner Heather Howard said. Both vaccines are in short supply because manufacturers cannot make enough to keep up with the demand.
“The shortage happened because manufacturers switched to produce the H1N1 vaccine,’’ Howard said.
The commissioner said she doesn’t want parents to stop looking for a seasonal flu shot, however. Vaccinating children, who easily swap germs, is still the best way to protect the virus from spreading to people of all ages.
“The department still strongly recommends children 6 months to 59 months of age receive one dose of seasonal flu vaccine,’’ Howard told reporters on a conference call today. “We know the vast majority of flu in the state and nation is H1N1, but seasonal flu has not disappeared.’’
Howard also announced the 29th death of a New Jersey resident since the first outbreak in April: a 35-year-old Warren County man who died Nov. 16.
New Jersey is the only state in the nation that requires all young children entering preschool and day care to get a seasonal flu shot. The law allows centers and preschools to exclude unvaccinated children until the flu season ends in March.
Suspending the law temporarily was “the appropriate thing to do in light of the shortage,’’ said Meg Fisher, an infectious-disease specialist at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch and vice president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ New Jersey chapter.
“Most of the general pediatric offices have run out of the vaccine and they ordered more, or they are on back-order even if they ordered last spring,’’ she said.
In the last two weeks, there have been signs both strains of the flu are on the wane, state health officials say.
But parents should still look to get their children both the swine flu vaccine and the seasonal vaccine to help prevent a second wave of illness next year, Fisher said.
Janice Dube, director of Stepping Stones Learning Center in South Plainfield, said the suspension allows her to skip the paperwork of verifying to the state all children in her program have been vaccinated.
So far, there have been no signs of the flu in her center, Dube added.
“Knock on wood, we have had nothing here — nobody with the flu,’’ she said. Star Ledger.