Massachusetts said Wednesday it would require all schoolchildren to get influenza vaccines to stay enrolled in public schools and daycares, making it the first state to require flu shots for children over the age of 5.
“The new vaccine requirement is an important step to reduce flu-related illness and the overall impact of respiratory illness during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said in a statement.
Most states require that children get the 16 recommended childhood vaccines to attend public schools, but the influenza vaccine, which must be given freshly every year, has been an exception.
Public health officials including US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield have been urging all Americans to get vaccinated against flu this year so the virus doesn’t further complicate the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Students will be expected to have received a flu vaccine by December 31, 2020 for the 2020-2021 influenza season, unless either a medical or religious exemption is provided,” the Massachusetts health department said.
“Also exempted are K-12 students who are homeschooled and higher education students who are completely off-campus and engaged in remote learning only," the department added.
The CDC estimates that 600 children died of flu during the 2017-2018 flu season.
“Every year, thousands of people of all ages are affected by influenza, leading to many hospitalizations and deaths,” Dr. Larry Madoff, medical director of the state’s Bureau of Infectious Disease, said in a statement.
“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.”