Controversy sparks after Massachusetts requires flu vaccinations for students

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. – Massachusetts public health officials announced that the flu vaccine will now be required for all children six months or older who are attending child care, pre-school, kindergarten, K-12, colleges and universities.

Students have until December 31, 2020 to get the flu vaccine. State officials say the vaccine could preserve healthcare resources needed for COVID-19 patients and save lives.

The new mandate is believed to be a first in the nation and has drawn criticism from parents on who should make that decision.

Cheryl Pickering has a 2nd and 5th grader in the New Bedford School System. She says she’s for the mandate.

“I think the flu shot is important. I believe in vaccines; my kids get the flu shot every year and they’ve never had the flu,” Cheryl Pickering said.

Pickering says she worries about how schools will handle influenza and COVID-19 outbreaks at the same time and hopes the new requirement eases the burden on teachers, nurses and doctors.

“I think they might be sending more kids home and teachers home if they have the flu or a cold or whatever thinking that it’s COVID,” Pickering said. “That’s going to be missed days because they have to have a test before they can go back.”

The CDC says this fall it’s likely the flu and COVID-19 will both be spreading at the same time and that getting a flu vaccine will be more important than ever.

However, some parents like Natalie Mandonca think the mandate crosses a line.

“I really believe that this is something each family should do on their own and make that decision together,” Mandonca said. “I definitely think they should encourage it, have flu clinics and make it accessible to everyone, but to fully mandate it for every school-aged child is not okay.”

Mandonca and her kids chose the virtual option at their school in Marion. However, according to the mandate, elementary and secondary students in districts using remote learning are not exempt.

Those exempt include medical, religious, K-12 students who are home schooled and higher education students off campus and in remote learning.

Mandonca says she isn’t against vaccinations, but worried what this could lead to.

“I feel like this mandate is opening a door for other things as well,” Mandonca said. “COVID vaccines are right around the corner and that has not been tested, so I feel like a mandate for that would follow shortly.”

In Rhode Island, officials at the Department of Health tell us they are looking at different options for schools and nothing is set or altered, but they do recognize the importance to get the flu vaccination this season.

Categories: Back to School, Coronavirus, Massachusetts, News