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Mom who lost son to flu: Get vaccinated

Two physicians who lost their son to the flu last year are now encouraging other parents to get flu shots for their children.

Posted: Nov 2, 2018 10:51 PM
Updated: Nov 2, 2018 11:08 PM

Two physicians who lost their young son to the flu last year want parents to listen to their message, born of great grief and suffering: Get your child a flu shot.

Drs. Laura and Anthony Sidari's 4-year-old son, Leon, did not get the flu vaccine last year. He died on Christmas Day, less than 48 hours after he started feeling sick.

"I didn't know a condition could kill a child that quickly who had been previously healthy," said Laura, a psychiatrist. "This has been a hard haul for us, and we're very private people, but we're trying to help other families."

Leon was one of 180 US children who died in the 2017-18 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- a historic high.

Approximately 80% of those children had not received a flu shot, according to the CDC.

Laura and Anthony, a rheumatologist, had wanted to get Leon and his 2-year-old brother flu shots at a pharmacy. They lived in Texas, where state law prohibits pharmacists from vaccinating anyone under the age of 7.

The couple, busy with their newborn third child, Cameron, decided to get Leon a flu shot when they were going to the pediatrician anyway: when 2-year-old Tristan had his annual visit, scheduled for January 3.

Leon died 10 days before that appointment.

"It wasn't even on my radar as something that I really, really needed to prioritize," Laura said. "It just slipped through the cracks."

The Sidaris' story is all too familiar to Dr. Flor Muñoz.

For 20 years, Muñoz, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Texas Children's Hospital, has worked with the American Academy of Pediatrics to increase the rate of flu vaccination for children.

The rates aren't great: Only 47.8% of children 6 months to 17 years old have had a flu shot in the previous year, according to the CDC, which recommends that everyone over 6 months get a flu shot.

The problem: Though adults can get flu shots at pharmacies or even at work, children don't have as many options.

In most states, there are limits or outright bans on pharmacists vaccinating children, and flu vaccine clinics at schools are the exception rather than the rule.

Only 13 states allow pharmacists to vaccinate children of any age, according to the National Association of State Pharmacy Associations.

"It's frustrating. It seems like we don't learn," Muñoz said.

There's no medical reason children shouldn't get flu shots at a pharmacy, said Muñoz, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.

Some states are changing their laws. New York used to bar pharmacists from giving flu shots to anyone under 18. This year, after the historic flu season, the state changed its laws to permit vaccination for anyone 2 or older.

"Good for you, New York!" Muñoz said. "More should be done to make this happen in other states. There should be more of a push."

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said more should also be done to make it easier for local health departments to offer flu shot clinics. Right now, he said, it's difficult for those departments to purchase large quantities of vaccine and to bill insurance.

"We need to do more to make it easy," he said.

The Sidaris are doing their part. Last month, they sponsored a "Say Boo to the Flu" event in their hometown, Albion, New York, where 59 children were vaccinated.

Although the CDC encourages flu vaccines by the end of October each year, it's especially important to get the shot well before the holidays, Muñoz said. Flu activity can peak in December, and holiday get-togethers can make the virus spread more quickly. It takes about two weeks for the shot to become effective after you receive it.

"Leon is my reason this season, and every season, for getting flu shots on time," Laura Sidari wrote on her Facebook page. "Holiday planning and fall festivities can wait, but the flu shot cannot."

CNN's John Bonifield contributed to this story.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Reported Deaths: 6502
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin995591576
Ramsey42700795
Dakota35723383
Anoka32968383
Washington21824253
Stearns18677200
St. Louis14644262
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Wright12400114
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Benton441090
Winona413548
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Goodhue382468
Polk340762
McLeod336149
Beltrami334449
Morrison321446
Lyon311343
Itasca308245
Becker306841
Isanti303052
Carlton298344
Steele297211
Pine280316
Freeborn275923
Nicollet251241
Todd243830
Brown240037
Le Sueur230120
Mille Lacs225447
Cass217224
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Meeker205534
Martin186628
Wabasha18503
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Cases: 358981

Reported Deaths: 5342
CountyCasesDeaths
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Linn20508311
Scott18171204
Black Hawk16156286
Woodbury14835211
Johnson1371072
Dubuque13438192
Dallas1120090
Pottawattamie10678140
Story1011545
Warren549170
Clinton538983
Cerro Gordo530580
Webster514686
Marshall493372
Sioux490468
Buena Vista469436
Des Moines454059
Muscatine445989
Wapello4247107
Jasper404865
Plymouth392277
Lee372051
Marion355967
Jones293254
Henry292635
Carroll284448
Bremer276154
Crawford271235
Boone257530
Washington253344
Benton249254
Mahaska222745
Jackson219638
Dickinson215938
Tama211464
Kossuth206754
Clay192725
Hamilton191041
Delaware188739
Winneshiek186626
Fayette183832
Buchanan183128
Page181319
Hardin179538
Wright179031
Harrison178369
Cedar174722
Clayton167853
Butler165431
Floyd161939
Mills161820
Poweshiek153229
Cherokee153135
Madison152817
Hancock146429
Lyon145341
Iowa143723
Allamakee143444
Appanoose138147
Grundy138030
Jefferson137232
Winnebago136830
Calhoun133010
Cass132248
Mitchell129840
Louisa127741
Union125831
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Sac123618
Emmet120840
Shelby119433
Franklin118119
Humboldt116724
Guthrie116128
Palo Alto104021
Montgomery103636
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Keokuk97329
Unassigned9270
Monroe92128
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Ida90732
Pocahontas85119
Davis82123
Monona81325
Greene76610
Lucas72721
Osceola69714
Worth6876
Taylor66212
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