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New York considering mandatory flu vaccine for students

New York Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office
New York Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.

New York state is considering the possibility of making the flu vaccine mandatory for students attending school this year for in-person learning, state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said Thursday, as public health officials urge the public to get vaccinated for the disease.

As the state enters this year’s flu season, public health officials have encouraged vaccinations to cut down on the number of flu tests that will have to be conducted.

That’s because the testing infrastructure for the flu is the same as what’s used to detect the coronavirus. That means there could be less capacity to test for COVID-19 if there’s a surge in flu cases, or vice versa.

“It’s important that people get their flu shot early this year. It will be complicated with COVID,” Cuomo said Thursday. “The flu season will also complicate the testing because many of the testing labs that do the COVID test also do the flu test.”

Nearby Massachusetts this year is requiring all students attending child care, preschool, K-12, and higher education institutions to get the flu vaccine this year. That applies to both public and private institutions.

Cuomo, when asked Thursday if New York should do the same, referred the question to Zucker, who said it’s one of the options his agency is considering at the moment.

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

New York has, in recent years, eliminated religious and nonmedical exemptions to mandatory vaccines for children attending school. The flu vaccine is currently not a mandatory vaccine.

A vaccine for the coronavirus could also be on the way in the coming months, though less than half of Americans have said they would get the vaccine if it’s offered, according to recent polls.