Though the number of New York City children receiving the flu vaccine has risen, it still remains far below the national goal, according to a new report from the city's Department of Mental Health and Hygiene.
Sixty-five percent of children between 6 months and 5 years old have received the influenza vaccine in the past year, up from 59 percent during the 2011-2012 flu season. Despite the increase, officials say the percentage is far below the goal of 80 percent as outlined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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"More New Yorkers die from influenza and pneumonia than from any other infection," Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. "The best way to prevent influenza is to get vaccinated. If you think it is too late, think again. We are just now heading into peak flu season."
Children are particularly vulnerable to complications of the flu, health officials warn. During the 2012-2013 season, 169 children in the U.S. died from flu-related complications, including four in New York City.
Though children face a higher risk, only 46 percent of New York City children ages 5 to 8 received the influenza vaccine by the end of the 2012-2013 season, and only 31 percent of children ages 9 to 18 received the vaccine.
Last month, the Board of Health unanimously voted to change the city's health code to increase vaccination levels among young children. Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, all children between 6 months and 5 years old who are enrolled in a city-licensed daycare or preschool will be required to receive the flu vaccine before Dec. 31 each year.
Other populations at risk for flu-related complications include pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions and adults age 65 and older, according to the health department.
Pregnant women face a higher risk of premature labor if infected with influenza, the report stated. The vaccine also protects the mother's newborn from the flu until the baby is old enough to get vaccinated at 6 months of age. Less than half of pregnant women in New York City received a vaccination between August 2010 and August 2011.
The city's health department has launched a new texting service to encourage more New Yorkers to get vaccinated. Users can text “flu” to 877877 to find a nearby vaccine location.