Students at Massachusetts schools from kindergarten up to universities, as well as children at least 6 months old in day care, must get the flu vaccine by the end of the year if they're around others, health officials said Wednesday.
The new requirement from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health comes amid the coronavirus pandemic, which public health experts have said could be exacerbated by the annual resurgence of the flu in the fall and winter.
The order allows for several exceptions, including K-12 students in homeschool and higher education students learning entirely remotely. Children and students with religious or medical exemptions are also excluded. K-12 students in schools with remote learning plans, however, are not exempt.
“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,” said Dr. Larry Madoff, medical director of the DPH’s Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences, in a statement.
K-12 students will need to get the seasonal flu vaccine by Dec. 31, and students entering school in January, February or March will need to have gotten a dose of the vaccine before they join, health officials said. Some children, depending on their age and vaccination history may be recommended to get a second dose of the vaccine, though it won't be required.
The vaccine will be required for all full-time undergraduate and graduate students under 30 years old as well as all health sciences students who are part-time or full-time, including people from overseas, according to the Department of Public Health. The rule applies to anyone who attends any single class or activity on their college or university campus.
Wrentham parent Donna Lamb agreed with the move, calling it "important" in an interview Wednesday.
"If I'm going to be sending my kids to school, I want to know that they're sitting next to someone who is vaccinated," she said.
Lamb added that the situation involving the coronavirus pandemic is scary but that "what we do know is vaccinating helps. So I'm going to do it."