NEW YORK (PIX11) -- Parents have two weeks as of Wednesday to vaccine their children against the flu before sending them back to pre-K after winter break.
This is the first school year that a flu vaccine is required for students attending pre-kindergarten. Parents were alerted to the change in June by the city's health commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett.
Pre-K students in New York City must receive at least one dose of the influenza vaccine between July 1 and Dec. 31, and submit proof of immunization to the child's school, Bassett said.
It's part of a citywide initiative to combat the flu, which is highly contagious and kills thousands of Americans every year.
As New York City battled its first and so far only case of Ebola in October and November, Bassett, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city health leaders called the flu a greater threat to New Yorkers than the disease ravaging West Africa and many health care providers dispatched to fight the Ebola scourge.
They encouraged New Yorkers to get vaccinated against the flu as they also urged them to remain calm about the single case of Ebola being treated at a Manhattan hospital.
Flu is now widespread in New York State as of Dec. 6, the most recent day for which CDC data was available.
While severe cases of the flu are rare, children younger than 5 and especially children younger than 2 are at especial risk for developing flu-related complications, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Adults age 65 and older, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems or underlying health conditions are also at risk of developing complications from the flu, the CDC said.
Getting children vaccinated against the flu can in turn protect those high-risk relatives in their lives, health officials said.
And a shot isn't the only way to vaccinate a child. The CDC said a nasal spray vaccine is the preferred method of immunization for healthy children between 2 and 8 years old.
Other changes to the pre-K immunization policy include the new requirement that students receive vaccines against Haemophilus influenza Type B (Hib) and Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV).
Parents should discuss with their pediatrician how many doses of the Hib and PCV vaccines their child needs because the dosage requirements are "complex," the health department said.
Those vaccines joined a list of existing requirements for DTaP, Polio, Measles-Mumps-Rubella, Varicella and Hepatitis vaccines.