As state flu shot deadline approaches, local families fight back

ANDOVER, Mass. — Time is running out for students to get flu shots under the state’s new mandate, before the Dec. 31 deadline. But some families are asking for exemptions.

The state mandate applies to children 6 months and older in childcare and pre-school, straight through college.

But Andover mom Allison Chapman says her family won’t be getting a flu shot this year -- or any year -- despite the state mandate.

She says as babies, all of her children had adverse reactions from vaccines, including her son who developed seizures. She also says her 72-year-old mother was severely impacted by the flu shot.

“She’s had the flu shot three times and all three times ended up in the hospital," Chapman says. "Last year, she had it and she was in the hospital for three months with Metabolic Encephalopathy. I’d ask her questions, so I’d ask her what she wanted for lunch, and she would read the exit sign.”

As Legislative Director for Health Choice 4 Action Massachusetts, Chapman has been busy fighting several bills at the state level that are trying to eliminate or restrict religious and medical exemptions.

Chapman says she’s hearing from families who say their schools and pediatrician’s offices denied their attempts to use exemptions.

She says in some cases pediatrician’s offices are kicking families out of their practices who refuse the flu shot, leaving them without medical care.

“I know somebody who has used the religious exemption for many, many, many years. This was the first time they’ve ever been denied. So this mandate is really creating an aggressive back and forth.

"If you’re going to deny children an education, that is a much bigger public health threat. When you don’t have access to education, you also don’t have access to sports and dance class and all those important extracurricular enrichment opportunities,” Chapman says.

Dr. Paul Sax, Clinical Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says the flu shot is not always effective.

Sax says in a good year the flu shot is 60% effective, while in a bad year it’s 10% to 30% effective.

“The flu vaccine is not our best vaccine. You know it has some warts,” Sax says. “For one, it has to be given every year.”

Boston 25 News asked Dr. Sax if there have been enough clinical trials and research to support that the flu shot is safe for people with autoimmune disease like lupus, cancer patients, and other other patients who are immuno-compromised. 

Sax says there is “a lot of good evidence” from placebo controlled trials that show that the vaccine is not a risk factor for triggering these autoimmune conditions.

Sax also stressed the importance of pregnant women getting the shot, because their immune systems are already compromised, making them more susceptible to illness.

The flu shot can help lessen the severity of the flu, Sax said. He wants to reassure people that studies show the vaccine is safe. And he says with peak flu season right around the corner, this is the time for most people to get the flu vaccine.

Dr. Sax says that while many people are not going into work offices or schools, the flu shot is still necessary as it will help prevent the health care system from being burdened by a so-called “twin-demic” of the flu and coronavirus.

Chapman says most people who choose not to vaccinate their kids aren’t necessarily “anti-vaxxers.” They support vaccinating healthy people.

But she says parents deserve to have the final say about medical decisions for their children.

“Parents are the first responders for every child,” Chapman says. “We are there for every seizure, every sniffle, every sneeze, every triumph, and we know what they suffer through... the parents really know what’s going on and their instincts have to be paid attention to.”

Chapman says her children have been bullied once other students found out they’re not vaccinated.

There are two lawsuits being filed right now, challenging the state’s vaccine mandate.

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