State reverses flu vaccine mandate for all students

Massachusetts will scrap a controversial mandate that students across all age groups receive flu vaccines, officials announced last Friday, walking back a months-old policy that the Baker administration had pitched as permanent.

The Department of Public Health updated its immunization guidance on Friday to eliminate a requirement that students in child care programs, pre-schools, K-12 schools, and higher education receive a flu vaccine to attend their educational programs.

The department “is removing the requirement for flu vaccination for attendance in childcare/preschool, primary, secondary and postsecondary education,” DPH spokesperson Kathleen Conti said in a statement. “Preliminary data show that this has been a mild flu season to date, presumably as people have received their seasonal flu vaccine and have been adhering to mask-wearing and social distancing due to COVID-19.

“Given the intensive Commonwealth-wide efforts regarding Covid-19 vaccination, DPH wants to alleviate the burden to obtain flu vaccination and focus on continuing our [coronavirus] vaccination efforts.”

Baker administration officials announced the new mandate in August, saying that students needed to receive it by Dec. 31 for the 2020-2021 flu season unless they had a qualifying medical or religious exemption in an attempt to lessen the burden of respiratory illnesses during the pandemic.
Shortly after unveiling the policy, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders clarified that it was intended not as a one-off but “on a go-forward basis.”