Dear Abby:

Last year, you kindly published a letter from Dr. Deborah Wexler of the Immunization Action Coalition highlighting the importance of influenza immunization. Thanks in part to your efforts, record numbers of people were vaccinated early in the 2003-2004 season.

Your letter could not have appeared at a better time, because the United States experienced an early flu season and children were severely impacted. By mid-December, 42 influenza-related deaths were reported in children under 18 years of age, half of them in children younger than 4.

Children between the ages of 6 months to 23 months remain especially vulnerable to complications from influenza infection.

This year, the influenza vaccine is recommended for all children between 6 months and 23 months. Parents, household contacts and caregivers of children between those ages should also be vaccinated. These children, many of whom are receiving the vaccine for the first time, may require TWO shots for complete protection. To assure two shots can be given, parents should seek out the vaccine for their infants early.

We in the medical community want the public to be aware of these important new recommendations. Additionally, we want to make sure health-care professionals are aware.

The influenza vaccine is extremely effective and can save lives.

Michael Fleming, M.D., President,

American Academy of Family Physicians;

Carden Johnston, M.D., President,

American Academy of Pediatrics;

John C. Nelson, M.D., President,

American Medical Association

I'm pleased to help you spread the word.

Readers, I am told that influenza kills more than 36,000 people every year, and together with pneumonia is the eighth leading cause of death. It's a tragedy that common myths surrounding the flu vaccine sometimes prevent people from getting it. These myths include the widely held mistaken belief that if you aren't vaccinated in September or October, it is too late to do it, and that only people over the age of 65 need it. Older citizens are not the only people who can benefit from flu shots; children and those who live and work closely with them can also benefit.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.

(c)2004, Universal Press Syndicate