TRENTON - Parents concerned about possible vaccine dangers and government intrusion are trying to block New Jersey from becoming the first state to require annual flu shots for children in licensed preschool or day-care centers.
The Public Health Council is set to consider on Monday whether the state should mandate flu shots as well as three other vaccines. State health officials also want to require a pneumococcal vaccine for preschoolers, a booster shot to fight whooping cough for sixth graders, and meningitis shots for schoolchildren as young as 11.
According to the deputy health commissioner, Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, the requirements have been approved by the state health department and Gov. Corzine. They are expected to be approved by the council on Monday.
Bresnitz said that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports the requirements and that public health officials in other states are likely to follow suit.
He said he is convinced that the vaccines will reduce the incidence of the diseases, preventable hospitalizations, and parents' staying 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 that the vaccines are safe and effective.
At a Statehouse news conference yesterday, about a dozen parents protested the new measures and urged people to call the governor's office to ask him to stop the vote on Monday.
"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. He blames his 7-year-old son's autism on vaccines.
Bresnitz said he did not know whether foreign jurisdictions require flu shots for schoolchildren.
The parents yesterday also urged support for a bill that would give parents the right to "philosophical objection" to vaccine mandates. The bill has sat in a committee for four years.
"It is not right for the government and unelected councils to dictate what we put into our children," said Sue Collins, cofounder of the New Jersey Alliance for Informed Choice in Vaccination.
When asked about the mandates yesterday, Corzine 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 some have called a cause of autism despite the lack of any evidence.
A few speakers also said there is no research showing that it is safe to give children the more than 30 vaccines required in New Jersey today.
"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 that New Jersey backs are recommended by the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical groups.