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Don't Wait: Dr. Says Deadline is Fast Approaching for Public School Children to Get Flu Shot

There is just about a month left for parents to get their child a flu shot to comply with Governor Charlie Baker's mandate that all public school children be immunized against the flu this year.

CAI's Kathryn Eident talked with Dr. Greg Parkinson, a pediatrician in Falmouth, about the mandate, and what he tells parents who may be wary of getting the flu shot for their children this year.

Eident Can you first explain the flu mandate? Governor Charlie Baker wants children to have this. Is it just children who are attending public school in person, or is he hoping that all children will get a flu shot this year?

Parkinson I'm sure he's hoping that all children will get a flu shot. The mandate includes all children who are in preschool K through 12 and post-secondary in Massachusetts. And it's both live and work. Even if you're are getting your school virtually, you're still required to get it.

Eident Are you sending vaccine immunization records to schools? Do they ask for proof of the flu shot for children this year?

Parkinson Oh, yeah. We've always provided proof of immunization for schools. And so this is pretty standard procedure.

Eident Have you heard from parents who would rather not have their children have a flu shot this year?

Parkinson You know, most people are very enthusiastic about protecting their kids from the flu. Some people have just traditionally not been flu shot people for their own reasons. We, on a daily basis, try to convince them of the merits of it, which are considerable.

People tend to, you know, with all immunizations, they tend to not think about the illness if it's not happening to them. Whereas as providers, we tend to think, at least on a community level, if not, the recommendations we get, of course, are more on a national level. And, we know that communities where there's high flu vaccine use are healthier than ones that don't.

You know, people don't realize millions of people get the flu every year. The flu is a more serious illness for children than it is. And 50,000 hospitalizations in the country from the flu is no small number, and that's in children. You know, over 400 children die every year of the flu.

Eident What do you try to tell parents if they seem hesitant or refuse a flu shot for their child?

Parkinson We're always trying to find out what a person is concerned about, what their reservations are, because it's not always the same issue. And if we can find out, you know, what concern is, at least we have a starting point to have a discussion. And, we don't always succeed in convincing people, but we try to at least provide them accurate information.

Eident Can you give an exemption for a child whose parents don't want him or her to get a flu shot this year?

Parkinson There are very limited exemptions, and I think it's an important point: The American Academy of Pediatrics lists very few reasons why somebody can't get a flu vaccine. In some ways, people are concerned that their health is vulnerable and therefore should they have this for their child. But in fact, the logic is, the opposite. The more vulnerable you are, the more important it is to get it. The only people that can't get the flu vaccine are ones that have had a documented allergy to the vaccine itself. People with egg allergy can still get the flu vaccine. And, you know, there are very few other reasons that you can't get it.

Eident So the often-cited religious exemption request--that doesn't hold up this year?

Parkinson There is a religious exemption law in Massachusetts. That's their decision. We don't get into that.

Eident Should parents worry that flu shots for children will run out? Can they wait until closer to the December 31st deadline?

Parkinson I would not assume that there's going to be an endless supply available in that last week of December. I think people are much better off, not only because they'll get it early in the season and have more chance to build immunity, but there is the potential to have a temporary shortage. There are a certain number who are thinking about waiting to the last minute. And, I would encourage them to get it sooner rather than later to avoid any problem.

Eident Does resistance that you've seen to the flu shot worry you that you will see more people hesitate when we do finally get access on a mass level to COVID vaccines?

Parkinson No, it doesn't. What worries me is the politicization of the so-called vaccine. As pediatricians, we are so fond of immunizations because they do such great things for children and we really take our reputation on the safety of immunization. And, we've always had great confidence in the information that is being put forward, being sound scientifically. When a vaccine becomes politicized, that all goes out the window. The American Academy of Pediatrics is very good. They don't recommend things for children that they wouldn't recommend to their own children.

Eident Well, Dr. Parkinson, thank you so much for taking a few minutes to explain this, and good luck throughout the month of December, as your office administers more flu shots to children.

Parkinson Thank you.

This conversation was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.