Flu Shots Now Mandatory For Massachusetts Students

State public health officials on Wednesday announced that influenza immunization will be required for all children 6 months of age or older who are attending Massachusetts child care, pre-school, kindergarten, K-12, and colleges and universities. The new vaccine requirement is an important 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, 2020 for the 2020-2021 influenza season, unless either a medical or religious exemption is provided. Also exempted 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 immunization 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. 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.”

All children at least 6 months old who attend child care or preschool must be immunized in accordance with the ACIP Recommended Immunization Schedule.

All students in K-12 must receive the seasonal influenza vaccine annually by December 31. 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. 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 is for college and university students who exclusively 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.

The updated table of immunization requirements for the upcoming school year can be found at https://www.mass.gov/doc/immunization-requirements-for-school-entry-0/download.

No High School Football, Cheerleading This Fall

By SCOTT JACKSON

Most high school sports teams will be able to go ahead with their seasons this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, but football and cheerleading have been pushed to a new floating season that would start later in the academic year.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association on Tuesday issued new guidance on high school athletics for the upcoming school year.

“Sports can be an important part of a well-rounded educational experience, even during the current public health crisis. Notwithstanding the risks associated with COVID-19, organized physical activity should be encouraged, within clear health and safety parameters,” the DESE and MIAA said. “Most sports can be played in ways that minimize those risks.

“In many cases, that will mean that inter-scholastic competitions may not look the same and may need to be played under fairly stringent restrictions with modified rules. Unfortunately, in some cases, competitive play may need to be cancelled or postponed. While difficult for all involved, it is essential that we keep health and safety paramount, both for everyone directly involved and the wider community.”

The new guidance allows most fall sports teams – including golf, cross-country, field hockey, soccer, gymnastics, girls’ volleyball and fall swimming and diving – to begin their seasons on Sept. 18.

Three sports – football, cheerleading and unified basketball – would not be allowed to go ahead with their seasons on that date. Those teams, however, would be allowed to practice starting on Sept. 18 and could begin playing games during a floating season that would start sometime later in the school year.

The DESE and MIAA guidance does not include start dates for the winter or spring sports seasons. The guidance also notes that higher-risk sports that play during those seasons – including hockey, basketball, wrestling, boys’ lacrosse and rugby – might also have their seasons pushed back to a floating season.

The guidance also sets new rules for athletics in districts with remote-only learning.

Districts designated as “red” based on the Department of Public Health’s metrics, and thus have their students learning remotely, must postpone their entire season, including practices, to the floating season.

Districts designated as “yellow,” “green” or “unshaded” by the DPH that also have high school students learning remotely can participate in the regularly scheduled season with approval from the local school committee.

The guidance states that the MIAA “will develop a timeline for looking at data prior to the start of each season to determine which color-coded designation a district should fall into for the purposes of engaging in sports.” It suggests, for example, that Sept. 1 could be used as date to determine initial eligibility for the fall season, which could be rechecked on Oct. 1.