Massachusetts flu vaccine student mandate should also include teachers: Medical experts

As Massachusetts health officials mandate that students get the flu vaccine by the end of the year, their teachers at the front of the classroom are not required to receive the shot, an exception health experts say leaves a gap in the effort to protect the school population.

The state Department of Public Health should extend this mandate for educators as well, medical experts tell the Herald.

“If you are going to mandate a vaccine for children, it should be mandated for teachers as well in order to most adequately protect the population at the school,” said Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Nicole Avena.

“Many hospitals have flu vaccine mandates for employees, and everyone from the doctors to the mail room workers are expected to get it,” she added.

In August, the Department of Public Health announced that flu shots will be required for all children 6 months of age or older who are attending Massachusetts child care, preschool, kindergarten, K-12 and colleges and universities.

Students will be expected to have received a flu vaccine by Dec. 31 for the 2020-2021 influenza season, unless either a medical or religious exemption is provided.

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

When asked why they were not requiring teachers to also get the vaccine, the Department of Public Health noted that state law allows the agency to make school vaccination requirements for students, but not for others.

“There are vaccination recommendations for teachers including the flu vaccine but not requirements,” the DPH said in a statement.

“We strongly recommend that everyone over the age of 6 months get a flu vaccine every year,” the agency added.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association does not provide guidance to its members about getting a flu shot. Both the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts and the Boston Teachers Union did not immediately respond to comment on Monday.

All teachers should “absolutely” get the vaccine, said Jeannie Kenkare, chief medical officer of PhysicianOne Urgent Care, adding that the DPH should follow up with teachers about getting it.

“With people congregating in schools, it just seems like common sense to get the vaccine to prevent the spread and protect our vulnerable populations, especially as we’re facing this ‘twindemic’ of flu and COVID-19 this fall,” she said.

The Massachusetts Public Health Association strongly recommends that every child and adult gets their influenza vaccination this year.

“As we face the threat of two simultaneous outbreaks this winter — coronavirus and the flu — it is more important than ever that we take all possible precautions to prevent the spread of these viruses that can cause serious illness, hospitalization, and death,” the MPHA said in a statement, adding about the flu shot, “It is a way not only to protect your own health, but also the health of your loved ones, your neighbors, your colleagues, and our communities.”

https://www.bostonherald.com/2020/09/07/massachusetts-flu-vaccine-student-mandate-should-also-include-teachers-medical-experts/