Mandatory flu shots for kids? Health officials consider policy ahead of flu season

BOSTON — Have you gotten your flu shot? How would you feel if it was mandatory?

The state of Connecticut already has a similar policy to that in place for young children --- no flu shot, no school.

Massachusetts is considering the policy as well, but the state isn't ready to take it that far yet.

"So it is an approach that we would use, we would consider," said Dr. Lawrence Madoff of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. "We want to use the least burdensome methods of getting people vaccinated that we can."

Flu vaccination rates in Massachusetts are quite high, with more than three-quarters of kids in the state aged six months to four years being vaccinated last year.

"Probably the most important thing is getting as many kids vaccinated as possible," Madoff said.

Massachusetts already seeing widespread flu activity

Though adult vaccinations are lagging far behind, public health officials think the priority is children's vaccines, particularly because the H1N1 strain will predominate this flu season and tends to affect young people most.

But should the flu vaccine be forced on young people?

"They've had all these other shots, over an 18 to 24 month period, then you're going to give them more shots and you don't know how that's going to impact their health. It's not a good idea," one person told Boston 25 News.

Mindy Gold, a pediatric nurse, isn't sure.

"There are kids now who are going to school, like I work in a special needs school, who are immunocompromised or not as healthy," Gold said. "And if they could be protected by other kids being immunized, whether it should be the law, I'm not really certain."

Last year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported the flu killed more than 170 children. And every year, the virus puts 20,000 children in the hospital.

"Their immune systems are not fully mature. They don't have all the defense mechanisms built up," Madoff said.

With those factors in mind, the state of Connecticut passed a law making flu vaccines for two to four-year-olds a requirement for entering school.

Parents in that state are now under a deadline to get those shots done. They have until New Year's Eve.

As of right now, the state of Massachusetts is not planning to make flu shots mandatory for school entry, but public health officials would like to see an even greater percentage of young children vaccinated than last season.

MORE: Everything you need to know about the 2018-2019 flu season