Influenza immunization will be required for all children 6 months of age or older who are attending child care, pre-school, K-12, and colleges and universities in Massachusetts, state public health officials announced Wednesday, in an effort to reduce respiratory illness and flu-related sickness during the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials say that all students will be expected to have received their flu shot by December 31, 2020, unless "either a medical or religious exemption is provided."
Homeschooled students, from kindergarten through 12th grade, are also exempted, as are college students engaged in remote learning only (students who "attend any classes or activities on campus, even once," will need to be vaccinated).
This new flu immunization requirement to enter school in January is in addition to existing vaccine requirements.
According to CNN, Massachusetts is the first state in the U.S. to require flu shots for children over the age of 5.
"It is more important now than ever to get a flu vaccine because flu symptoms are very similar to those of COVID-19 and preventing the flu will save lives and preserve healthcare resources," said Dr. Larry Madoff, director of DPH's Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences.
Massachusetts health officials say that, depending on the child's age and flu vaccination history, a second dose of flu vaccine in the same season may be recommended.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there have been more than 124,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and at least Covid-related 8,848 deaths in Massachusetts since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database. Over the past week, Massachusetts has averaged 337 cases per day, representing a decrease of 22% from the average two weeks earlier. Last week, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, said that if Americans don't follow public health guidance, the country could be facing "the worst fall, from a public health perspective, we've ever had" due to the confluence of Covid-19 and the flu. Less than 50% of Americans got the flu vaccine last year, but Redfield said the CDC's goal is to get that number up to 65%.
"By getting that flu vaccine, you may be able to then negate the necessity to have to take up a hospital bed," Redfield said. "And then that hospital bed can be more available for those that potentially get hospitalized for Covid."
9.3 million: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention typically purchases approximately 500,000 doses for uninsured adults each flu season, but this year the CDC has ordered an additional 9.3 million doses.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday that whenever a vaccine for Covid-19 is made available in the U.S, he doesn't believe it will be mandated. "I don't think you will ever see mandating of a vaccine, particularly for the general public. If someone refuses the vaccine in the general public, you cannot force someone to take it," Fauci said.
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield: CEOs Can Have Enormous Impact In COVID-19 Fight (Forbes)
Flu Vaccine Now Required for all Massachusetts School Students Enrolled in Child Care, Pre-School, K-12, and Post-Secondary Institutions (Mass.Gov)
Fearing a 'Twindemic,' Health Experts Push Urgently for Flu Shots (New York Times)Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus
I'm a New York-based news desk reporter for Forbes covering sports, politics and business. Please feel free to contact me via email (tsbeer7 [@] gmail.com) or Twitter