BOSTON (AP) — State health officials say flu vaccinations will be required for all students 6 months or older who attend child care, pre-school, school and college in Massachusetts to reduce the possibility of a double whammy of respiratory illnesses during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"We have studies that show that flu vaccination can save children's lives," said Dr. Dani Hackner, chief clinical officer at Southcoast Health.
Hackner said a flu shot will help prevent kids from getting sick with COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.
"We don't want to take the chance," he told NBC 10 News in an interview Wednesday. "We really want to protect one another. We know that flu can injure children and we know that COVID can injure children. So, to improve our ability to care for children with a variety of conditions, we have to use the tools available."
The state Department of Public Health said Wednesday that students must get the influenza vaccine by Dec. 31.
But not everyone agrees with the state's new rule.
"I don't think the state should have that authority," said April Souza. "That should be a parents choice for their children, what they want to do."
"They have different strands every year," said parent Amelia Smith. "Who knows if this is even going to help out with the different strands that we have. I don't think it's the right thing. I think it should be a choice for us parents to have."
There are exemptions, including for medical and religious reasons, as well as for homeschooled children and higher education students who are completely off-campus and engaged in remote learning only.
"This year's definitely different," said parent Christine Medeiros. "Personally, I would do it, but that's my choice. I definitely think it should be a choice and not something someone is forced to do."
Hackner said October is the best time to get a flu shot.
"Things are very different this year," said parent Annie Gavin. "And if there's a chance we can do something, in addition to wearing masks and keeping six feet apart, I think we need to do it."
A spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Health said flu shots are required for students and staff at childcare and pre-k but not for older students, adding, "Flu vaccination is going to be incredibly important this flu season. We are exploring different ways that we can help ensure that our flu vaccination rates are as high as possible."
Health experts say mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing can also help prevent the spread of flu.
NBC 10's Danielle Kennedy contributed to this report.