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State may require flu shots for students

A WOMAN RECEIVES the seasonal influenza vaccine.

The Vermont Department of Health may require that school-age children get a flu shot. 
Commissioner Mark Levine said he was “absolutely” considering mandating the vaccine and would announce a decision within weeks, according to an interview on VPR’s Vermont Edition. 
Last week, Massachusetts became the first state to require flu shots for its students. All kids over the age of six months who attend child care, pre-school, elementary school, high school or college must get the vaccine by Dec. 31, public health officials announced. Homeschool children and fully remote college students are exempt from the rule.
Levine told VPR that the topic required more research in Vermont. “It’s obviously a big deal when you mandate something,” he said. “On the one hand, we don’t want to add any complexity to getting back to school. But on the other hand, if there’s a safe and effective vaccine that everyone would benefit from having, maybe Massachusetts isn’t too far off.”
Health officials around the world have raised concerns of the convergence of flu season with the Covid-19 pandemic. Getting the flu may increase a person’s chance of contracting Covid, or lead to more severe symptoms,researchers have hypothesized. Some have worried that more people with flu-like symptoms could increase demand for Covid tests and other necessary medical supplies. A surge in cases of both illnesses, or a “twindemic,” could overwhelm hospitals. 
“We’re very concerned about the flu season and the double whammy with the flu and Covid-19,” said Vermont’s Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan. 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has heavily encouraged Americans to get flu shots. The vaccines have traditionally been voluntary, but in some sectors, that may change. For instance, the University of California system has required its students, faculty and staff to get flu vaccines by Nov. 1. Some employers or health care systems have floated the idea of requiring them for workers. 
The Vermont Department of Health already requires a list of 10 vaccines for kids attending school, including chicken pox, polio, and measles, mumps and rubella. The annual flu vaccine is recommended, according to the department’s guidance. 
Any changes to that list must be reviewed by an advisory panel, a process that traditionally takes months, according to Dolan. 
Dolan said she didn’t know who would be required to get a flu vaccine in the case of a mandate, or when a final decision would be made. 
“We haven’t talked about it a lot yet,” she said. 
The state teachers union supports the move, if public health officials deem it necessary, said VT-NEA spokesperson Darren Allen. “There are vaccinations that are required for kids to attend school,” Allen said. “If the health department needs to adjust those, we support the decisions of medical and public health experts. It keeps our children safe, it keeps our educators safe, it keeps our communities safe.” 

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