By Lauren Bennett
Governor Charlie Baker held a press conference at the CVS on Washington St. in Roslindale on September 17 to urge Massachusetts residents to get a flu shot this year.
Baker received his flu shot as well.
“With respect to the flu, every fall, public health officials urge people to get the flu vaccine,” Baker said. “This year, that mission is more important than ever. As we continue to fight COVID-19, it’s critical that we do everything we can to minimize the impact of the flu and other respiratory illnesses. This will keep people healthy and help maintain capacity in hospitals in other healthcare facilities in case there is another surge associated with COVID-19.”
He said that about a month ago, healthcare workers in the state began having discussions with the Baker-Polito administration about “what it would mean to have the flu land at exactly the same time as a second surge for COVID-19,” he said.
He explained that it would be “incredibly difficult” for healthcare workers to manage large cases of the flu with a potential surge in COVID-19 cases, so the state is requiring that all children attending school or college get a flu vaccine. Those who are homeschooled or are exempt for religious or medical reasons do not have to be vaccinated, but everyone else is highly encouraged to.
“We have an 81 percent positive vaccination rate for elementary school kids,” Baker said. “We can do better and we should.”
He said that precautions such as social distancing, washing hands, and wearing masks has “had a noticeably positive impact” on the number of traditional respiratory illnesses such as strep throat and ear infections.
Baker stressed the importance of remaining vigilant as the weather gets colder and people start to be inside more.
“First and foremost, it is easy to get a flu shot and we are here to remind everyone that iti is a very good thing to do this year to get a flu shot,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said. “Every year, thousands of people of all ages are affected by the flu and it results in many hospitalizations and some deaths.”
She said that there were more than 40,000 positive cases of influenza reported to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health during the 2019-2020 flu season, as well as 55,000 hospital emergency department visits and 6600 deaths.
“Vaccines save lives and this is more important than ever as we head into a flu season that overlaps with a potential COVID-19 resurgence in the ongoing pandemic,” Sudders said. “…Many flu symptoms are very similar to those of COVID-19, and preventing the flu will not only save lives, but it is good public health as it preserves critical hospital medical resources to deal with the COVID pandemic.”
Sudders said that Massachusetts has the highest rate of pediatric flu immunization in the country—81 percent, and this year, it is the first state to require the immunization for K-12 and college students.
“As students return to in-person learning, whether that is now or in the future,…this vaccine requirement provides an additional and necessary layer of protection and safety for teachers, students, staff, and families,” Sudders said.
She added that the state has worked to ensure there will be enough vaccine for residents. During the past few years, the state has purchased around 900,000 doses annually, but this year, the Department of Public Health will receive 1.156 million doses of the influenza vaccine, which she said is a 28 percent increase.
There is also a new public awareness campaign that will inform people about the importance of getting a flu shot that will be rolled out next week in English and Spanish across a variety of platforms.
“Our goal,” Sudders said,” is to remind you to protect yourself and your family from illness this season by getting a flu shot today.”