Flu Fighter: Gary Stein
Meet flu fighter Gary Stein from Falls Church, Virginia, who after losing his four-year-old daughter, Jessica, to flu in February 2002, helped form Families Fighting Flu in an effort to raise awareness about the seriousness of flu and the importance of annual flu vaccination. In 2002, annual flu vaccination was not recommended for healthy children of Jessica’s age. Gary and other partners—including Families Fighting Flu—played an important role in advocating for the change in flu vaccine recommendation that now includes everyone six months and older.
- How has flu impacted you personally? Why do you fight flu?
Our first child, Jessica, died from flu in 2002. Jessica was a normal, healthy 4 ½ year old girl. Prior to her passing, my wife and I did not appreciate the importance of immunization against flu, and as a result, Jessica never received a flu vaccine. She contracted the virus and ultimately died from its complications. Had we protected our daughter and the rest of our family, she might still be alive today. We are left to wonder what type of life she could have led.
- How do you fight flu?
In 2004, my wife and I joined with other parents that lost their children to flu to launch Families Fighting Flu, a national nonprofit advocacy organization focused on flu prevention. I have served on its Board of Directors since its inception and for several years I also served as the organization’s treasurer.
The accomplishments of Families Fighting Flu include playing an important role in lobbying the CDC’s immunization policy committee to broaden the recommendation for annual flu vaccination so that everyone six months and older was included (Jessica died at age 4, which at that time was outside of the age groups for whom the CDC had recommended annual flu vaccination). In addition, FFF launched Stay in the Game™, a campaign to encourage families to stay healthy through annual flu vaccination so that they can participate in school, sports, and other activities. As part of this program, we created and distributed educational materials for school nurses, expectant mothers, and other key segments of the population, and produced numerous other communications, including media interviews, public service announcements, etc. to help spread the word about the importance of flu immunization.
Additionally, my wife and I have organized several Rock Out the Flu galas to raise money for Families Fighting Flu. Also, as a youth sports coach, I spread the word annually to league officials, fellow coaches, and parents to encourage them to protect their players and families.
- What would you say to those who are hesitant about getting a flu vaccine?
Had Jessica received the flu vaccine, she might still be alive today.
- What do you want others to learn from your experience with flu?
Don’t take chances with the lives of your loved ones. Protect your family. Protect yourself.
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