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New York State health department 'looking at' possible public school flu vaccine requirement

A similar mandate in Massachusetts will require students to get a current flu shot by December 31.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — With flu season right around the corner, the state health department is looking at requiring all public school students to get a current flu shot.

The topic came up during a COVID-19 conference call Thursday afternoon, after a reporter addressing Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked, "I'm wondering how would you feel about making flu vaccines mandatory for students returning to school?"

The governor deferred to New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.

“We’re looking at all these possibilities to see what we can do. I think public health information is the first necessary thing to do but we are looking at that as a possibility,” Zucker said.

While no additional details were discussed, Dr. Steven Lana of Delaware Pediatrics told 2 On Your Side that just the possibility of a mandatory flu shot is promising, especially during a pandemic.

"On their own, each of these viruses is very serious and can be deadly. Infecting an individual simultaneously and that certainly can happen, there's nothing preventing that from happening. We don't know how that would turn out but I can't imagine it would be favorable," Dr. Lana said.

Dr. Lana added that this year, some patients who might not have gotten the flu shot before are getting it to prevent a co-infection, in which COVID-19 and influenza affect the body at the same time.

"Because we have the potential of having these two very serious aggressive viruses at the same time in our community, COVID-19 and influenza we need to take all the steps that we can to at least mitigate the possibility that someone can get influenza," Dr. Lana said.

A vaccine for COVID-19 isn't expected until early 2021.

Massachusetts was the first state to mandate students be vaccinated against the flu. Parents have until December 31, 2020, to get it done. The Massachusetts mandate does include exemptions for religious and medical reasons.

"The idea is to get your flu vaccine as early as possible, influenza can be unpredictable and we could see a spike any week," Dr. Lana said.

Many flu clinics have begun opening across Western New York and while the risk may be low now Dr. Lana recommends thinking two weeks ahead so your body has time to develop antibodies that fight the flu.