It’s probably no surprise that people feel strongly about Gov. Charlie Baker’s flu shot mandate for Massachusetts students — after all, it was enough to draw activists to the streets to protest the issue not just once, but twice. And a class action lawsuit is said to be pending over the matter.
But even though the movement against the mandate has been more visible, a poll of Boston.com readers that drew almost 1,200 responses found 60% in favor of the governor’s action, with 40% objecting.
That’s still a sizable portion uncomfortable with the government mandating children get a vaccine that, unlike other inoculations, must be given every year and is typically only partially effective. But the Massachusetts Medical Society describes the flu vaccine as “a safe and important step toward protecting yourself, your family, your co-workers, your classmates, and your community,” and is strongly urging all residents to get one before the end of October in order to avoid overloading hospitals with flu patients while doctors deal with a possible coronavirus surge.
“Those resources are resources needed for patients who have bad cases of COVID,” the Society’s president, Dr. David Rosman, told WBUR. “There are only so many ICU beds and we want to make sure we preserve them as best needed.”
As far as the effectiveness of the vaccine, “The flu shot varies in how effective it is year after year,” Dr. Ali Raja, executive vice chairman for the department of emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Boston.com during last winter’s flu season. “Some years it can be low as 30 percent effective in preventing the flu. Some years it can be as high as 70 percent.
“But, regardless of whether or not it prevents you from getting the flu, the evidence shows that if you do get the flu, you are both going to have less severity and a shorter duration of symptoms,” he said — meaning fewer hospitalizations needed.
More than 200 poll respondents weighed in with more details as to why they were for or against the flu shot mandate, with some strong opinions on both sides. Here’s a sampling of those responses.
“The whole point of the vaccine mandate is so there is no outbreak of the flu on top of COVID which would overwhelm the healthcare system. As someone who is on the front lines, please get vaccinated. We are struggling already with just COVID but if we have a flu outbreak the system will break.”
“Parents have a choice. Send their kid to public school or don’t. That’s the choice.”
“There are little to no repercussions in getting the shot and it protects the children. These people are endangering their own kids with their willful ignorance.”
“Since both illnesses share some symptoms, we could max out hospitals and testing capacity if people do not take all the precautions that are available.” — Lucy, Stoughton
“There are several mandated vaccines; this is no different, especially during this pandemic.”
“From a public health perspective it is very important to reduce flu during a pandemic. Protect yourself and each other by getting a safe flu vaccine. This extends the time all of our kids get a chance to be in-person at school. Our health system needs the resources (pediatricians & hospitals included) to focus on pandemic response.” — Heather, Arlington
“Yes, people can follow ‘My Child, My Choice.’ However, as with all choices we make, there are consequences. In the current situation, the consequence of not getting your child vaccinated is that your child will not be allowed to interact with other children at school. Public schools should offer remote learning to students who cannot attend for other reasons, and include the No-Vax students in those remote classes.”
“As important as an effort to reduce the load on hospitals and the health care system is reducing the testing required. Symptoms for each are similar, and an increased volume of testing will further diminish already strained resources. Add to that quarantines that happen while waiting to find out if someone has COVID or influenza, and you have the potential for shutting down schools and businesses.” — Tim, Weymouth
“The flu shot is an established vaccine that protects an individual as well as the community he or she belongs to from the chances of catching the flu. At the beginning of COVID people were saying that some were overreacting because the flu kills more. The flu kills and getting the shot stems it spread. An individual’s freedom does not extend to harming the community at large by potentially being a virus spreader.”
“If the decision is based in science, which I assume it is, then it is 100% the correct decision.”
“How the hell are schools supposed to tell the difference between influenza and SARS-CoV-2 based on symptoms? Eliminate one by having kids (and everyone else) be vaccinated. I’m starting to question if we as a species have already gone too far down the path of idiocracy.” — Frustrated Independent, Scientist, Western Mass.
“Not being vaccinated is literally life-threatening in this environment.”
“Flu shots should be mandated. There are still reasons for exemption. If kids have to get vaccines for MMR, Hep A and B, etc., they should have to also get the flu vaccine. Go to a private school where this isn’t required if you don’t want to make your child do this. You have a choice. This is for public health.” — Linnea, Northborough
“Science should lead our decisions as a community, not dogma, ideology nor ignorance.”
“The government is doing what it deems best in order to protect the most number of people possible. Unfortunately, they clearly realized that in order to maximize the number of school children who get the flu shot this year they have to issue a mandate on the subject. It’s sad that it has to come to this (I really wish it didn’t) but it is what it is and if that means freeing up more resources for a potential second COVID-19 wave then so be it.”
“This is going to the same issue as masks. Individual rights end where other people’s rights begin, and we eradicated many diseases with vaccines. The last thing we need right now is for any of them to come back including a much higher caseload of the flu this winter when we are already dealing with higher hospital admissions because of COVID-19.” — Karen, Manchester-by-the-Sea
“The real question is: why do these people feel it is their right to force their children to suffer through a preventable disease?”
“I am certain that this was mandated to protect everyone, not to take away people’s ‘freedom or rights.’ Why is the U.S. so individualistic when it comes to public health and decency?”
“Flu shot vaccines have been proven for safety as well as efficacy over the last three decades. I understand concern over a rush to a COVID vaccine, but flu shots have been proven to be extremely safe.” — Tim, Melrose
“Public health is not a personal choice.” — Carson, Newton
“If a child shouldn’t have it, there’s typically a reason and the parents and a doctor know why. If not, they should get a shot. Those crying out are more than likely not mask wearers for COVID.”
“The argument is being made that this is about choice. People do have a choice — they can forgo the shot and keep their kids away from the rest of the world, or they can get the shot and gain the services they desire. We don’t argue about requirements for other safety oriented structures. You can learn to drive and get a driver’s license or you can forgo it and not drive.”
“It would be one thing if all these poor health decisions were made in a vacuum and only affected the people foolish enough to make these choices, but sadly we know this to be not the case. But I suppose it should come as no surprise that there are people refusing to take steps for the greater good and endangering everyone else around them. It’s why we’re still neck deep in this pandemic in the first place. Witness the results firsthand of conflating opinion with fact and the death of the expert. We had a good run.” — Matt, Chelsea
“This wouldn’t have been a political issue at any point in the last 25 years. We’ve allowed stupid to have a seat at the table, and it’s going to ruin us all.”
“Frankly I’m curious how this frivolous lawsuit will play out. Why is the flu vaccine different from other vaccines that are mandated (MMR, chicken pox, polio, etc.) for kids to go to school or daycare? I see no difference. If they don’t want to vaccinate their kids (simply for the sake of having the right not to vaccinate vs. their child having a legitimate reason) should not be able to participate in public school or daycare activities.”
“It is not ‘YOUR child.’ You may be the kid’s parent, but you and the kid are part of a COMMUNITY. Which, among other things, pays taxes for your kid’s education, medical care, police and fire protection, mobility systems (roads, trains, buses, bike paths, etc.). We ALL have a responsibility to keep everyone in our community safe. Sometimes that means getting a vaccination with an overwhelmingly safe vaccine.”
“I believe in science.”
“Because it’s science.”
“Anything that has possible serious side effects should not be mandatory. Yet again Baker has overstepped his authority.”
“We don’t live in China.”
“A few years ago my husband had a bad reaction to the flu shot and it has made us very wary of it since.”
“With the transmission and survival rates of the flu, it should not be mandatory. Seasonal flu is not severe enough to mandate a vaccine. Also, if we are required to wear masks to protect us from COVID, which has proven to have a higher transmission and death rate than seasonal flu, then why do we need a flu shot? Shouldn’t the same mask be protecting us from flu, same as COVID?”
“This is lunacy and is an attempt to prepare us for an unproven COVID-19 vaccine.”
“I don’t support mandatory flu vaccines. For healthy children there is no strong science flu shot effective. Supporting immune system matters most — healthy lifestyle, sleep are key.” — Sarah, Duxbury
“With the COVID-19 safety protocols, the spread of the flu is almost impossible. Besides, mandatory vaccination is not acceptable.”
“My kids are 20 and 16. None of us have had a flu shot in about 10 years and none of us have had the flu. I understand that for most that get it there are no issues however the benefits do not outweigh the risks in my opinion.”
“Where there is low efficacy and high risk, there must be choice.” — Maria, Douglas
“Doctors with patients and patients’ parents should be making medical decisions together, NOT the government.” — Karrie, Petersham
“If it was isolated to this year only then fine, but to require children, for the first 18+ years of their lives, to get a yearly shot that is modified each year and has a less than 50% efficiency rate, in order for them to receive child care and an education at a public or private establishment in this state is outrageous and a huge government overstep.”
“Independent of whether or not you believe the vaccine is effective or safe, the government should not be allowed to dictate what gets put into our bodies. Maybe I am comfortable with the flu vaccine but this would set a dangerous precedent for the future of our medical freedom. Vaccines, as do most medicines, come with the risk of potential side effects.” — Baker, Boston
“Why would you enforce a vaccine that guesses the strain wrong every year?”
“Never has the healthcare system become overwhelmed during this entire pandemic. What I choose to vaccinate myself and my family for is my choice, not a paid government employee.”
“The flu shot is not very effective and the government is getting too prescriptive with our children and our bodies. We are already distancing and wearing masks and stuck in our houses, set up for a low flu season.”
“Government needs to stay out of health care. We all do not participate in his version of health care. We live a holistic lifestyle with NO poisons. Also, we need FREEDOM to decide our own health care.” — Jessica, Manchester-by-the-Sea
“It is government overreach to determine who has to get a flu shot … If he wants to make it a law he should get the Legislature to get it passed, and good luck with that.”
“The government should not be able to mandate a medical procedure ever. Especially one with such a low efficacy rate.”
“He has continually overstepped his bounds in response to the pandemic and should consider himself lucky he hasn’t faced more challenge at the Supreme Court. I have a feeling that is still to come. I am generally for vaccinating my children, and do get them the flu shot, but that is my choice, not his or the state’s. I understand mandatory vaccinations for some other diseases like MMR, etc. as we have largely eradicated these, but those are typically administered once or in infrequent increments over the span of a lifetime, and have a high efficacy. The flu shot is marginally effective as there are so many strains of the flu and the antibody quickly leaves the body, hence why another vaccine is needed the next year.”
“I believe there are many compelling reasons why this mandate must be reversed. These reasons include: We do not fully understand how the flu vaccine will react with the COVID virus; students and their parents are being denied their medical freedom for no good reason as the ineffectiveness of the flu vaccine means that even if ALL residents were immunized, herd immunity would not be obtained; other currently used protocols to prevent the spread of COVID are actually more effective than the flu shot itself in preventing the flu with no potential associated health risks.”
“We get flu shots every year. But this year we are quarantining. My child is doing remote school and we are not going into public buildings. We would have to break our quarantine and risk COVID exposure to get a flu shot at a time when we will not be in a position to contract or spread the flu.”
“Governor Baker is overstepping. Just like he did with the shutdown. We shouldn’t still be shut down and wearing masks. We also shouldn’t be told what goes into our children’s bodies. They are our concern. Not his. He needs to remove this mandate immediately.”
“Our bodies do not belong to any government. While I may CHOOSE to vaccinate my children based on facts, science, and other factors, it is not up to the government to MAKE ME. The government should focus on safety of the vaccine for citizens so we can make a logical choice — based on FREE WILL.” — Nikki, Winchester
“Completely unnecessary vaccine to give to children. This should be left up to to the parent or individual. If we are all wearing masks, cleaning and social distancing, there is absolutely no need for this vaccine and the extra contaminants it contains. Enough is enough.” — Adam, Weston
“If we are going to mandate the flu shot, why not mandate it for the frail and elderly, who are the ones likely to have worse outcomes? Why the kids?”
“For our smaller children, we are the parents. We know our children and their health better than anyone. This should be a personal decision, a personal choice that parents make. As children become adults, they should be able to make their own choices as well. Government should not be stepping in and telling anyone what they must put into their bodies … This is morally wrong and so very unethical in so many ways.” — Sabrina, Lexington
“Baker[‘s] stated reason for the flu mandate for kids is [to] keep hospital situation at bay. Really? Have kids ever had a flu breakout where many kids get hospitalized? As it is, MA has one of the highest vaccinations rates in the country. No need to mandate this garbage.” — David, Seekonk
“It’s not the job of the executive branch (governor) to enact laws, which is essentially what this is. This mandate should be voted on by the citizens of Mass. before denying parents the right to decide for their children. There’s also no time limit on this mandate, which means it’s forever. This is classic government overreach, never letting a good crisis go to waste.”
“Whatever happened to my body, my choice? And what’s next?”
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