BOSTON (WWLP) – State public health officials announced Wednesday that the flu vaccine will be required for all children six months of age or older who are attending child care, pre-school, kindergarten, K-12, and colleges and universities in Massachusetts.

According to a news release sent to 22News from the Department of Public Health, the new vaccine requirement is a step to reduce flu-related illness and the overall impact of respiratory illness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

Students also exempt are K-12 students who are homeschooled and higher education students who are completely off-campus and engaged in remote learning only. This new flu vaccine requirement to enter school in January is in addition to existing vaccine requirements for all those attending child care, preschool, K-12, and colleges and universities in Massachusetts.

This new mandate has already proven to be extremely controversial. But we know that under it children as young as 6 months old to graduate students 30-years-old will have to get a flu shot this year.

“This is going to cause a lot of chaos in communities across Massachusetts and it’s something that is held closely to everybody it’s an individual decision,” said John Gosselin, parent of a 14-year-old.

Many parents are against the new mandate, others are in favor of it, but regardless your child must get the flu vaccine by December 31 of this year in order to return to school January 1. This mandate includes elementary and secondary students who are using a remote education model, they will not be exempt.

College students who attend any classes or activities on campus, even once, must be vaccinated as well. 22News spoke to a local pediatrician who said doctors are in favor of this mandate because it helps them fight flu season amid the pandemic.

“Now that we know that there is a flu shot mandate we are less worried about flu testing and we can concentrate really on looking at COVID-19 and against protecting our kids,” said Dr. John O’Reilly at Baystate Children’s Hospital.

However, there are some exceptions to this new mandate like a medical or religious reason.

The CDC also recommends getting your flu shot in October to allow your body to build to be antibodies against the virus.

Immunization Schedules

Elementary and secondary students in districts and schools that are using a remote education model are not exempt.

“Every year, thousands of people of all ages are affected by influenza, leading to many hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. Larry Madoff, Medical Director, DPH’s Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences. “It is more important now than ever to get a flu vaccine because flu symptoms are very similar to those of COVID-19 and preventing the flu will save lives and preserve healthcare resources.”

The Department of Public Health states that all children at least six months old who attend child care or preschool must be immunized in accordance with the ACIP Recommended Immunization Schedule.

New students entering between January 1 and March 31 must have received a dose of vaccine for the current flu season before entry.

Depending on the child’s age and flu vaccination history, a second dose of flu vaccine in the same season may be recommended. In these cases, the second dose is not required for school entry.

For older students, the flu vaccine requirement applies to all full-time undergraduate and graduate students under 30 years of age and all full- and part-time health science students, According to the Department of Public Health.

The requirement includes individuals from outside the U.S. attending or visiting classes or educational programs in Massachusetts as part of an academic visitation or exchange program.

The only exception, however, is for college and university students who attend classes online and never visit campus in person. College students who attend any classes or activities on campus, even once, must be vaccinated by December 31.