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Massachusetts now requires flu vaccines for all students

Virologist on COVID, schools and flu season
Virologist on COVID testing, school risks and the upcoming flu season 08:46

Almost all students in Massachusetts are now required to get the flu vaccine in order to attend school. Officials said they hope the statewide mandate will help reduce illnesses during the coronavirus pandemic and ease the strain on the health care system.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced Wednesday that all children ages 6 months or older attending child care, preschool, kindergarten, K-12, and colleges and universities in the state will need to get the flu shot before the end of the year. 

"The new vaccine requirement is an important step to reduce flu-related illness and the overall impact of respiratory illness during the COVID-19 pandemic," officials said. 

The state will allow exemptions for religious or medical reasons. Students who are homeschooled and off-campus college students who never visit campus in person are also exempt from the mandate.  

International students attending programs in Massachusetts will need to comply. "College students who attend any classes or activities on campus, even once, must be vaccinated," officials said. 

Some states have flu vaccine requirements for day care and preschool children under the age of 5, and there are mandates in all states for public school students to have certain childhood vaccines, although details differ. Massachusetts appears to be the first state to require flu shots for K-12 and college students.

CDC warns of "worst fall" ever if coronavirus guidelines are ignored 03:55

"Every year, thousands of people of all ages are affected by influenza, leading to many hospitalizations and deaths," Dr. Larry Madoff, medical director of the state health department's Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences, said 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." 

The health department emphasized that students currently participating in remote learning must still get the vaccine by the December 31, 2020 deadline. 

Officials added that they may recommend a second dose of the vaccine for certain students based on age and vaccination history, but it would not be required for school entry. 

Since 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 9 million and 45 million Americans are sick with the flu each year, leading to between 140,000 and 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths annually.

Yet fewer than half of adults in the U.S. — and about 60% of children — typically get the flu vaccine.

Health officials, including White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, have urged Americans to be sure to get their flu shot this season.

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