Flu vaccine now required for all students in Massachusetts

BOSTON — The flu vaccine has been added to back to school lists across the Commonwealth.

Students of all ages, including child care and pre-school, will need to get the vaccine before returning to school in January, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

State public health officials announced Wednesday that influenza immunization will be required for all children 6 months of age or older who are attending Massachusetts child care, pre-school, kindergarten, K-12, and colleges and universities.

“I think that being a mandatory requirement is a little bit extreme considering what we’re dealing with right now,” said Jenaya Isaac, a Boston mother. “I don’t think that pressure especially down to 6 months should be required. I think that is absurd.”

Students must receive the vaccine by Dec. 31, 2020, for this school year, unless they have a valid medical or religious exemption. Also exempted are K-12 students who are homeschooled and higher education students who are completely off-campus and engaged in remote learning only.

“I think when there is scientific evidence to help or support a community at large citizens should take advantage of those opportunities,” said Alex Schuman. “I think if it doesn’t hurt why not, a flu shot is not going to be a Covid vaccine so it’s not a cure-all.”

“Every year, thousands of people of all ages are affected by influenza, leading to many hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. Larry Madoff, medical director of 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.”

The state provided the following guidance:

All children at least 6 months old who attend child care or preschool must be immunized in accordance with the ACIP Recommended Immunization Schedule.

All students in K-12 must receive the seasonal influenza vaccine annually by December 31. New students entering between January 1 and March 31 must have received a dose of vaccine for the current flu season before entry.

Depending on the child’s age and flu vaccination history, a second dose of flu vaccine in the same season may be recommended. In these cases, the second dose is not required for school entry.

For older students, the flu vaccine requirement applies to all full-time undergraduate and graduate students under 30 years of age and all full- and part-time health science students. The requirement includes individuals from outside the U.S. attending or visiting classes or educational programs in Massachusetts as part of an academic visitation or exchange program. The only exception is for college and university students who exclusively attend classes online and never visit campus in person. College students who attend any classes or activities on campus, even once, must be vaccinated by December 31.

The updated table of immunization requirements for the upcoming school year can be found here.

More information can be found here.

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