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Long brown hair, sparkling blue eyes and a smile that could light up any room — my daughter Alana was my princess. Alana was full of life and loved dance, gymnastics and playing with her brothers. I was there for her first word, her first steps and her first day of school, but I will never see her go to prom, graduate from college or have the privilege of walking her down the aisle.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the state Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), flu cases are on the rise in Michigan and nationwide. In the first week of January, 928 cases of the flu were recorded in Michigan, compared to 134 cases reported for all of December. And in late December 2018, MDHHS confirmed the first flu-related pediatric death of the 2018-2019 season. The child, from Osceola County, had not been vaccinated against the flu.

Alana was only 5 years old when she died from flu-related complications. As extraordinary as the outcome, Alana’s story is relatively unremarkable in detail. Feb. 1, 2003, began like any other Saturday. Alana spent the day with her family, watching movies, eating sundaes and playing with her siblings.

Later that evening, she developed a 106-degree fever and was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. Within hours of arriving at the hospital, Alana died of flu-related complications that caused swelling and injury to her brain.

At the time, the CDC recommended children between the ages of 6 and 23 months receive an annual flu vaccination. In 2010, they changed that recommendation to include anyone 6 months and older.

Contrary to what some people believe, the flu is serious. Before Alana’s passing, I myself didn’t fully understand the severity of the flu. In fact, when doctors told us that Alana’s diagnosis was the flu, I felt relieved.

But the flu is dangerous and can cause devastating health complications for some people, including older people and young children — like Alana. The best way to protect yourself, your family and those around you is to get vaccinated every year.

I am not alone in losing a child to the flu. Last year the United States experienced one of the deadliest flu seasons in decades, including 182 pediatric deaths reported across the country. According to the CDC, 80 percent of deaths last year occurred in children who had not received a flu vaccination. Still, many parents choose to not vaccinate their children against the flu.

Getting your child vaccinated doesn’t only protect them against the disease, it helps protect others in your community too, including people who can’t get certain vaccines for health reasons or those who are too young to be fully immunized. When everyone in a community who can get vaccinated does get vaccinated, it prevents the spread of disease and can slow, or stop, an outbreak.

It can be difficult to wade through and make sense of the information available online about the flu vaccine. It’s normal to have questions — it makes you a good parent. Finding a reliable source of information is the first step.

This flu season, I urge you to do everything in your power to keep your family healthy. It’s not too late to get your child vaccinated, and it’s one of the safest and most effective things you can do to protect them.

Zachary Yaksich is the founder and executive director of Alana’s Foundation.

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