Health Department supports state’s decision to require flu immunization for students

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The state announced Wednesday that all children 6 months of age and older who are attending Massachusetts child care, preschool, K-12 or college will be required to have the 2020-21 influenza immunization by Dec. 31.

During an appearance on Thursday’s Hopkinton Hangout Hour, Hopkinton Health Department director Shaun McAuliffe and public health nurse Kasey Mauro discussed the reasoning behind the mandate.

“COVID and the flu are very similar … they’re going to present very similar symptoms,” Mauro said. “So if we know that children have been vaccinated for that, then we can — not automatically assume that they don’t have flu, but we can with good judgment think that they’re protected to some extent from the flu.

“In addition to that, let’s say we have a regular flu season, where people are hospitalized anyway for the flu. If you have a larger number of people that are vaccinated, then hopefully these hospitalizations due to the flu will be less, so we can manage COVID and the flu at the same time.”

McAuliffe said getting a flu shot is a good idea in a typical year, even more so now.

“We’re always going to recommend that you should get a flu shot and that you should take proper precautions to prevent the flu, common respiratory diseases, illnesses, norovirus — that’s not changing,” McAuliffe said. “In an ideal situation, if everybody is following the precautions that we have in place for COVID, we should actually have better outcomes for flu season, we should see less people with colds.”

Mauro said Hopkinton will offer a number of drive-through flu clinics, starting in late September, including potentially one just for seniors. She is conducting a survey to see how many residents would be interested and what their availability is.

McAuliffe said there are medical and religious exemptions, and children who are being home schooled are exempt as well.

“But the expectation is you’re going to have your child vaccinated,” McAuliffe said. “This gets to this whole, if we’re really working together as a community to improve our health, getting the flu vaccine and reducing the flu load in the community is our target. Our goal is to reduce the rate of illness in the community. This is one of the tools that we can bring to help achieve that objective.”

Asked if he is concerned that some people might object to being forced to vaccinate, McAuliffe noted that other vaccines already are required for students before they can attend school.

“Why would you not want to protect your child?” he asked.

There has been a lot of information coming out about school reopening, and some of it changes regularly. Mauro encouraged residents to “be flexible and confident that we’re going to get there together.”

“The information is going to keep changing,” she said. “The best thing we can do as adults is just have a little bit of faith that the people that are guiding them toward this reopening are trying to do it in their best interest. I would potentially be sending my kids to the same school that I’m trying to reopen, so I’m only going to say it should reopen if it has the right things in place.”

Looking at the town’s overall handling of the pandemic, McAuliffe said, “We had a rough go at the start,” but with cooperation from the majority of residents, “We’re enjoying a lot of success that a lot of communities are not.”

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