INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

New Jersey parents are getting a holiday gift from the state Health Department: a little longer to get their preschoolers newly mandated flu shots.

Instead of the previous deadline of Dec. 31, parents now have until Jan. 14 to get their children who attend licensed child-care centers vaccinated, said Health Department spokeswoman Marilyn Riley. The regulation applies to children aged six months to 59 months.

If the child is not vaccinated by the deadline, the parent must provide a doctor's note to prove that the child has an appointment to get the shot.

No note or shot, and the child may not be allowed to attend school or day care. The state requires preschools and centers to get proof of immunization and not to allow unvaccinated children at their facilities.

If a school or center violates the regulations, it faces a fine ranging from $50 to $1,000.

State Health and Senior Services Commissioner Fred N. Jacobs approved the flu-shot requirement last December, effective this fall and winter. New Jersey was the first state to require early-childhood flu vaccinations.

Local health departments will be in charge of enforcing the regulations. Spokesmen for Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties said they routinely audit centers and preschools for compliance.

Scott Woodside, director of nursing for Gloucester County, said the compliance rate in his county is 99.8 percent.

But not all parents are pleased about getting their little ones flu shots. According to the Health Department, influenza is responsible for about 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths in the United States each year. While the elderly are most likely to die as a result of the flu, Riley said babies and young children are most likely to be hospitalized.

Some parents, however, have expressed concern about possible adverse effects of the flu shot, as well other vaccines.

"We have gotten phone calls," Woodside said. "We instruct them on the value of it and we point them to the new sanctions."

Gloucester County will offer free flu shots to county residents on Monday from 9 a.m to 4 p.m. at the health department, 204 E. Holly Ave., in Washington Township.

Robert Gogats, Burlington County's health officer, said his department has heard from parents that they have had trouble finding the vaccine. Others are reluctant to get it.

"I'm hoping they do, because immunization helps us conquer preventable disease," Gogats said.

He said he has never had to fine a center or preschool for vaccination noncompliance.

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841 or rgiordano@phillynews.com.