Health officials in Massachusetts announced on Wednesday that the state would require all students six months and older who attend child care, pre-school, K-12 and colleges to get their influenza immunizations before the end of 2020. The move, which will require students to have their flu shot by December 31, 2020, is partially in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a way of trying to minimize the additional risks of upper respiratory illness for these students and the adults who care for them and teach them.
Per the announcement, the mandate will effect all students who meet the above criteria save for those with medical or religious exemptions, home schooled children or off-campus and remote students in higher education. Elementary and secondary school-age kids “in districts and schools that are using a remote education model are not exempt,” however and new students entering school between January and March 2021 will be required to receive a dose of the vaccine as well.
All Massachusetts students must receive the flu vaccine by December 31, 2020 for the upcoming influenza season. A few exemptions apply. Learn more: https://t.co/VGTRYv0qHC pic.twitter.com/BsxTz2Dtsv
— Mass. Public Health (@MassDPH) August 20, 2020
“Every year, thousands of people of all ages are affected by influenza, leading to many hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. Larry Madoff, Medical Director, DPH’s Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences. “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.”
In an interview with Massachusetts-based outlet Mass Live‘s Melissa Hanson, Dr. Robert Finberg said the move was likely the right choice from a public health perspective.
“There’s an analogy here to COVID-19. Young people can carry this virus and then they could give it to older people and the older people could die,” Finberg said, “so by immunizing our children we will, one, prevent them from getting the disease and, two, and equally important, we will prevent them from spreading it because their parents and grandparents are much more likely to get sick.”
Massachusetts is a state that already has notably high childhood vaccination rates, but the latest decision shows that the state is looking critically at ways to lower risks of a disastrous flu season compounding the coronavirus pandemic. As SheKnows previously reported, studies show that vaccine mandates and stricter rules about non-medical exemptions for vaccines lead to a lower rate of parents “opting out” (for obvious reasons.) Though it can feel like a place where parental rights and public health are at odds, experts do think that there’s a larger responsibility to try and minimize harm for the larger community.
“Parents who object to vaccinations, for either religious or philosophical reasons, have strong lobbies in many states,” Michael S. Wald, a professor and children’s health policy expert at Stanford Law School said in a Q&A for Stanford Law Blog about the subject of vaccines in February 2019. “They receive support from legislators who see decisions regarding health care, like decisions regarding schooling, as an aspect of parental rights. However, in most states, exemptions from vaccination laws can be overridden if the failure to vaccinate creates a substantial risk of serious harm to public health. For example, in the event of an outbreak of a communicable disease a state may order that a child be vaccinated.”
The anti-vaxxer and “vaccination hesitant” communities (as the AAP refers to them) can often be difficult to navigate while trying to ensure every child has access to high quality healthcare. Per the AAP’s guide for physicians navigating “hesitant” parents: “Vaccines have been proven a major public health success, eliminating some childhood diseases from the United States and significantly reducing the incidence of many others. Despite this success, and perhaps sometimes because of it, some parents have concerns about the necessity and safety of vaccines and are reluctant to have their children vaccinated. Pediatricians report that parental vaccine hesitancy is one of the most common barrier to vaccinating patients. Despite the development of many methods to talk to parents about vaccines and research to determine what is most effective, no clear answer prevails.”
Before you go, check out our favorite natural cold remedies for kids: