In 2009, Serese Marotta lost her five-year-old son Joseph to H1N1 flu.
Despite her devastating loss, Serese soon joined the Board of Directors of Families Fighting Flu (FFF), an advocacy organization that includes families, healthcare professionals, and other advocates dedicated to increasing flu education and prevention, so that she could help other families with similar experiences. Today, she is the Chief Operating Officer (COO).
FFF helps individuals and their families understand that they are not alone in fighting the flu, and allows them to channel their grief into helping save others from this vaccine-preventable disease. Serese’s experiences have helped families like the Wehrkamps, who lost their young daughter Gianna to the flu. Together, FFF fights to ensure that no other families have to go through the same experiences.
AVAC was honored to have Serese join us in Washington, DC, earlier this month at a traveling do-it-yourself (DIY) exhibit of Smithsonian’s Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World. Set up in the Russell Senate Office Building, the exhibit provided an education and awareness opportunity for senators, congressional staff and visitors, and coincided with the 100th anniversary of the 1918 influenza pandemic, as well as the start of flu season.
During a curated discussion on October 2, Serese helped make the connection between the past and present epidemics highlighted in the exhibit (including Ebola, influenza, HIV, Zika), and the importance of staying up to date with all Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP) recommended immunizations.
Serese explained that many “don’t necessarily understand that the flu isn’t just a bad cold” but that it’s actually a potentially serious disease that has killed more than 100 children annually in the US during the past few years. In 2017, more than 80,000 deaths occurred due to influenza.
FFF is working to change that by helping families realize how serious the flu can be. Although FFF has focused primarily on children in the past, it is now expanding to reach both parents and grandparents, encouraging annual flu vaccination across the lifespan. “Parents often get kids vaccinated, but not themselves…we need everyone to be vaccinated against the flu to create an environment of community immunity,” explained Serese.
Through programs such as “Keep Flu Out of School” and “Stay in the Game,” FFF advocates for the importance of getting an annual flu vaccination so that families can stay healthy and keep doing the things they love. “Keep Flu Out of School” is a five-year cooperative agreement with the CDC and several other nonprofit health organizations that strives to elevate flu prevention efforts among elementary school students through fun, educational worksheets and user guides for students, school nurses and teachers.
Recently, FFF developed a healthcare professional toolkit as part of their “Stay in the Game” public awareness campaign, to provide busy doctors and other healthcare professionals with resources on flu vaccination to help them explain the importance of flu vaccines to patients and families during medical visits. The toolkit includes a cover letter from a pediatric nurse practitioner explaining her experiences working to stop the flu, flu facts and statistics, family stories, FAQs, and infographics.
Thanks to Flu Fighters like Serese Marotta who work tirelessly to raise awareness about the seriousness of the flu and the importance of annual flu vaccination, fewer families will hopefully have to experience the tragic loss of a loved one to the flu. To learn more about the FFF organization, visit www.familiesfightingflu.org.
Find where you can get your flu shot using the CDC Flu Finder –