BOSTON (WHDH) - Influenza immunization is now 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, health officials announced Wednesday.

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, according to the state.

Students will be expected to have received a flu vaccine by Dec. 31, 2020, for the 2020-2021 flu season, unless either a medical or religious exemption is provided, officials said. Homeschooled and higher education students who are completely off-campus and engaged in full-remote learning will also be exempt.

The new flu immunization requirement to enter school in January is in addition to existing vaccine requirements.

“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.”

Health experts said that getting the shot will ease the burden that has been placed on healthcare workers over the course of the pandemic.

“Flu takes up healthcare resources,” Tufts Medical Center infectious disease specialist Dr. Shira Doron said. “We can’t afford to take up healthcare resources with anything else right now. Especially if we were to see an increase in the number of coronavirus cases here in Massachusetts. We don’t have any room to be diverting our resources to preventable illnesses.”

Doron added that people do not get sick from the flu vaccine. Some may see a reaction at the site of injection, while others may experience a low-grade fever.

Parents received the news with a mixed reaction Wednesday. Some say they are on board with the plan.

“I feel totally good about my kids being required to have a flu vaccine,” Laurie Patragnoni said. “Absolutely, I’m all for vaccines. The medical community knows more than I do.”

Others shared a less enthusiastic take.

“In a normal setting, I wouldn’t normally have my kids do the flu vaccine,” Rockland resident and father of five, Jeremy Medford, said. “I understand the reason. You’ve got to make tough decisions whenever you’re in situations like this. So, we’ll comply but I know that we know many parents who would feel otherwise.”

(Copyright (c) 2022 Sunbeam Television. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox