BOSTON (CBS) -- All students in Massachusetts will be required to get the flu vaccine before the end of the year. State public health officials made the announcement Wednesday, citing the importance of reducing flu-related illnesses amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"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," the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said in a statement.
Students are expected to get their flu vaccine by Dec. 31, 2020.
Exemptions will be made for medical or religious reasons, the state said. Homeschooled students and college students who are completely off campus and only learning remotely are also exempted.
"On top of all the COVID-19 troubles, you may as well cut one thing out," said Natick mom Jess Mantaro, when she heard the new announcement. "Especially this year. It's one less thing to worry about if you get the flu shot. Hopefully it's very effective this year."
Massachusetts is the first state to require the flu shot for K-12 and college students, according to CNN. Only a few other states have flu vaccine requirements for daycare and preschool children under 5 years old.
"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, in a statement. "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."
New students who will be entering school between Jan. 1 and March 31 will need to be vaccinated first, the state said. A second dose of the flu vaccine in the same season may be recommended based on the child's age and vaccination history, but it won't be required for school entry.
Vaccines have always been controversial, and this one is no different. "One hundred percent, people should still have the choice I think," said Dan Condin, from Natick. "Our country was founded upon individual liberty, and I still believe that in regards to shots."
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