Two doctors who lost their baby to flu last year want parents to listen to their message born of great grief and suffering: get your baby vaccinated.
Drs. The four-year-old son of Laura and Anthony Sidari, Leon, had no flu shot last year. He died on Christmas day, less than 48 hours after he fell ill.
"I did not know that illness could kill a child so quickly that was healthy before," said psychiatrist Laura. "This has been a difficult affair for us, and we are very private individuals, but we try to help other families."
Leon was one of 185 US children who died in the 2017/18 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – a historic high.
About 80 percent of these children had no flu vaccine, according to CDC.
Laura and Anthony, a rheumatologist, wanted Leon and his two-year-old brother to be treated with flu shots in a pharmacy. They lived in Texas, where the law prohibits pharmacists from vaccinating anyone under the age of seven.
The couple, who is busy with his newborn third child, Cameron, decided to give Leon a flu shot if she went to the pediatrician anyway: when two-year-old Tristan had his annual visit for the 3rd of January.
Leon died 10 days before this appointment.
"It was not even on my radar as something that I really had to prioritize," said Laura. "It just slipped through the cracks."
The story of Sidaris is Dr. Flor Muñoz only too familiar.
For 20 years, Muñoz, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at Texas Children's Hospital, has been working with the American Academy of Pediatrics to increase the flu vaccine for children.
The prices are not very good: Only 47.8 percent of children between the ages of 6 months and 17 had a flu shot last year, according to the CDC, which recommends flu vaccines recommended for over 6 months.
The problem: Although adults can get flu vaccines in pharmacies or even at work, children do not have that many options.
In most states there are limits or absolute prohibitions for pharmacists who vaccinate children. Influenza clinics in schools are the exception rather than the rule.
According to the National Association of State Pharmacy Associations, only 13 states give pharmacists the opportunity to vaccinate children of all ages.
"It's frustrating, it seems we're not learning," Muñoz said.
There is no medical reason why children should not get flu shots in a pharmacy, said Muñoz, who is also professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.
Some states are changing their laws. New York used to hold pharmacists from flu shots to persons under 18 years. This year, after the flu season, the state changed its laws to allow vaccinations for people aged 2 and over.
"Good for you, New York!" Muñoz said. "More should be done to enable this in other states. There should be more pressure. "
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said more needs to be done to provide local health departments with the opportunity to offer flu vaccines. It is currently difficult for these departments to buy large quantities of vaccine and to charge for insurance.
"We have to do more to make it easy," he said.
The Sidaris do their part. Last month, they sponsored a Say Boo to the Flu event in their hometown of Albion, New York, which vaccinated 59 children.
Although the CDC encourages flu vaccines every year until the end of October, it is particularly important that it be taken well before the holidays, Muñoz said. Influenza activity may peak in December and gatherings on vacation can spread the virus more quickly. It takes about two weeks for the shot to take effect after you receive it.
"Leon is my reason for receiving punctual flu shots this season and every season," wrote Laura Sidari on her Facebook page. "Vacation planning and autumn festivals can wait, but the flu shot does not."