Pending bill requiring flu vaccine for all students makes waves in NJ

As health experts predict a possible twindemic this fall of both the coronavirus and the flu, a new bill introduced by Assemblyman and physician Herb Conaway would mandate that all New Jersey school children from preschool to 12th grade — as well as those in daycare and students in college — get an annual flu shot.

“We know that we can have two circulating viruses, both of which can be deadly. We have a vaccine against the one; we ought to use it,” Conaway said. “We know what’s coming. We’ve seen this play. We know that seasonal flu will be here, and why not arm ourselves against it? We’ve got to get those school up and running, and we need to do it the safest way that we can. And part of that process is making sure that everybody who enters an educational program gets a flu vaccine.”

Conaway says it would also be mandatory for students learning virtually to receive the vaccine.

“Our mandatory vaccinations program is not suspended for children who are learning remotely. Often they are shifting, they have two days remote, two days in school. We know that afterschool programs, sports programs will continue, I’m not sure about the advisability of those. But these children are not in school all day and are not remaining in isolation,” he said.

Debbie Nazzaro has been a registered nurse for more than 20 years and is currently a school nurse in Hunterdon County. She doesn’t support the bill and argues that the flu shot should be a choice.

“This bill would land on the school nurses, who would then have to explain the requirement, enforce it, collect the documentation of every child’s flu vaccine, whether they are attending school in-person or remotely. And then they would have told any child that didn’t submit that proof of vaccinations that they can no longer participate in school,” Nazzaro said.

She continued, “There are a lot of assumption being made about the impact that this will have on our hospitals’ ability to handle any resurgence of COVID-19 cases as we enter the fall for flu season. The impact from the children is so low that I really don’t see that this bill is necessary at all.”

Sue Collins of the New Jersey Coalition for Vaccination Choice says a mandated flu vaccine is not a one size fits all solution.

“So if I have a student who is 6 or 7 and they get the flu shot, they have a reaction, and now I have to give it the year after, and the year after and the year after. I mean, that’s not OK,” Collins said. “We should never be forcing people to accept a medical procedure that may have side effects, especially in this time now where we’re all social distancing, washing our hands, staying home when sick, wearing masks. We are going to be preventing the transmission of many viruses and bacteria.”

The mandate does include religious exemptions and exempts any child who is homeschooled. Conaway says he hopes to have the bill passed by October when flu vaccines are traditionally given.