Fearing the collision of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic with the upcoming flu season — something health experts have dubbed a "twindemic" — lawmakers in some states are considering making flu shots mandatory for kids in public schools or child care. With surging COVID-19 cases keeping hospital staff and healthcare professionals across the country busy, public health experts have warned that even a mild flu season could further strain valuable resources.
Massachusetts became the first state to mandate flu shots for kids in child care and school when its Department of Public Health announced the new requirement earlier this month, as CNN reported. Under the new law, all children age 6 months or older who attend a Massachusetts child care, pre-school, kindergarten, or K-12 school are required to have received a flu vaccine or medical or religious exemption by Dec. 31 unless homeschooled. College and university students are also required to obtain the immunization unless they live completely off campus and engage only in remote learning.
"Every year, thousands of people of all ages are affected by influenza, leading to many hospitalizations and deaths," The Boston Herald reported Dr. Larry Madoff, director of the Bureau of Infectious Disease at Massachusetts' Department of Public Health, said when announcing the mandate Aug. 19. "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." There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have strongly encouraged people to get a flu vaccine this year in order to limit the viral infection's impact amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
While hundreds have protested Massachusetts new vaccine mandate, New Jersey lawmakers are considering similar legislation. According to NJ.com, a bill introduced to the state assembly last week would make the flu shot a requirement for admission at both public and private K-12 schools, preschools, colleges, and universities if passed.
Vermont's Department of Health is also reported to be considering whether or not it will mandate flu shots. "It's obviously a big deal when you mandate something," Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said during an interview on VPR Vermont Edition. "On the one hand, we don't want to add any complexity to getting back to school. But on the other hand, if there's a safe and effective vaccine that everyone would benefit from having, maybe Massachusetts isn't too far off."
While concerns of a so-called "twindemic" have spurred some states to consider enacting flu vaccine mandates for children in school or child care, some states already require the immunization for younger children. In Ohio, attendance at a child care, head start, or pre-school program requires an annual flu shot. Similarly, New York City also requires children aged 6 to 59 months to receive one dose of flu vaccine in order to attend day care, Head Start, pre-K, or nursery school. In Rhode Island, flu shots are mandatory for any child entering a licensed DHS center-based and in-home child care facility. In Connecticut, the state requires children aged 6 months to 4 years who attend a licensed child care program or school receive an annual flu shot.
Still, Massachusetts is the first state to have made the flu vaccine a mandatory requirement for school attendance.
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