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Tragic loss of 3-year-old daughter drives family to advocate for flu vaccination

(BPT) - "Influenza took our child Emily from us."

Joe Lastinger and his wife had no idea how serious flu could be. When their 3-year-old daughter Emily got sick, they took her to the doctor right away where a test confirmed she had influenza (flu). They brought her home and kept her hydrated and ensured she was rested, but it got progressively worse over the weekend. Within three days of her diagnosis, Emily passed away.

"Her absence is a constant in our lives," Joe said. "Every milestone - whether hers or those of our other children - is missing something. While we experience the joy of such occasions, there is almost always a time when I catch my wife's eye and know that we both are thinking of Emily."

Flu can impact anyone of any age, race and gender.1 While some people may be at higher risk for serious complications - such as young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older and people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease - anyone can become seriously ill due to flu.2,3

For this reason, pharmacist and GSK vaccines educator Dr. Leah Smith encourages vaccination of those six months of age and older as soon as possible, especially with the holidays in full swing and people gathering with loved ones.

"While most flu activity in the U.S. occurs from October through May, the peak is usually between December and February,4 so it is not too late to get your flu vaccination."

"And, reminder - it takes about two weeks after flu vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body. Holiday travelers visiting family and friends should take this timing into consideration when making a plan to get vaccinated. However, even if you're less than two weeks out from your trip, it's still worth getting vaccinated, as some protection is better than none," said Dr. Smith.5

Joe wants to spread his message so that other parents may avoid experiencing this painful loss.

"While we could never undo our failure to help protect our daughter through vaccination, we can at least help other parents. My hope is that every time I share Emily's story, it will motivate people to take action to speak to their doctor or pharmacist about flu vaccination to help protect themselves and their loved ones from flu."

How families can help protect themselves

"Seasonal flu is a very contagious respiratory virus that infects the nose, throat and lungs, and it should be taken seriously5," explained Dr. Smith. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu can cause mild to severe illness. People may experience some or all of these symptoms, which usually come on suddenly, and can include5:

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny/stuffy nose
  • muscle/body aches
  • headaches
  • fatigue (tiredness)
  • vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)

In addition to vaccination, Dr. Smith also recommends healthy habits such as frequent handwashing, plus staying away from anyone who is sick - and staying home from work or school when you are ill to help prevent spreading flu to others.6

Where you can receive flu vaccination

If you're the "Chief Health Officer" of your family, you probably want to help protect your family from the flu, especially during peak flu season. Fortunately, flu vaccinations are usually quick and accessible. You and your family can get vaccinated at most doctor's offices and clinics, and you can also receive flu vaccination in pharmacies, urgent care clinics, college health centers and even some schools or workplaces. Some pharmacies even have walk-in vaccinations.7

Flu vaccinations are usually free for people with medical insurance, including those with Medicaid, Medicare, ACA plans and private plans.8 For those without insurance or a primary care physician, speak with your local pharmacist or health department about your options for flu vaccination.

"The singular bright spot to our story with Emily, is that we have had the opportunity to connect with other families who are on the same journey and can work together to reach other parents with our message," explained Joe, who is a founding member of Families Fighting Flu - a nonprofit group dedicated to sharing education and awareness of the seriousness of influenza.

You can make a plan to help protect yourself and your family from flu today. Learn more about the importance of yearly flu vaccination at


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices - United States, 2023-24 Influenza Season. Available at: Accessed August 29, 2023.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key Facts About Influenza (Flu). Available at: Accessed July 25, 2023.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People at Higher Risk of Flu Complications. Available at: Accessed July 25, 2023.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Flu Season. Available at: Accessed July 25, 2023.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu Symptoms & Complications. Available at: Accessed July 25, 2023.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventive Steps. Available at: Accessed September 27, 2023.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Summary: 'Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)-United States, 2023-24'. Accessed November 16, 2023.
  8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. How to Pay. Available at: Accessed August 1, 2023.
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