BOSTON (CBS) -- Gov. Charlie Baker says that the new flu vaccine requirement for Massachusetts students is aimed at trying to keep hospitalizations down this fall and winter as the coronavirus pandemic persists. The Department of Public Health announced Wednesday that all students in the state will be required to get the flu vaccine by Dec. 31.
The new mandate affects all children 6 months or older in Massachusetts child care, pre-school, kindergarten, K-12, and colleges and universities.
Baker said he wants to reduce the burden on health care workers who will be trying to separate the flu from coronavirus cases. 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.
"I would hope people understand that this is an important part of how we continue to fight the virus here in Massachusetts," Baker said. "The more people who get the flu shot, and don't get the flu, and don't end up in the ER, and don't get the flu, and don't end up in the hospital, the more capacity we'll have to actually serve the people who do have COVID."
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.
Baker said about 81% of K-12 students in Massachusetts got a flu vaccine last year.
State Representatives Will Crocker (R-Barnstable) and Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica) were among lawmakers who questioned the requirement.
Rep. Lombardo urged Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders and DPH Commissioner Monica Bharel to reverse the mandate. "With all due respect, seasonal flu vaccine decisions should be made by parents, not unelected Beacon Hill bureaucrats," Lombardo wrote in a letter posted on Facebook.
Rep. Crocker said the mandate was troubling because it, "makes a statement to parents that the Commonwealth, not parents working in cooperation with their family's primary care physicians, are the ultimate arbiters of their child's health care decisions."
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