Will Massachusetts impose coronavirus vaccine mandate for teens? Charlie Baker leaves question open

Gov. Charlie Baker left open the question of a coronavirus vaccine mandate for school children but noted it’s “certainly something we’ll consider” as the FDA is on the cusp of approving the life-saving vaccine for teens 12 and older.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 years old in the coming days. The vaccine is only authorized for use in people 16 and older.

It would make an additional 16 million or so Americans eligible for inoculation against the virus that is afflicting children at growing rates across the U.S.

State Sen. Sal DiDomenico, who represents the hard-hit communities of Chelsea and Revere, said he “hopes all parents see the value in the vaccines and understand it’s not just about one family, it’s about the entire school community — the teachers, the students, being safe.”

“If we don’t vaccinate our young people, then we’re never going to get out of this pandemic,” the Senate Majority Leader said, indicating he would support a requirement.

But U.S. Sen. Ed Markey was careful not to wade into the debate when asked Tuesday by a Herald reporter where he stood on mandating coronavirus vaccines for eligible school children.

“I’ll leave that to the medical community and science, done in conjunction with parents, with school officials and public safety officials,” Markey said, speaking after an appearance in Chelsea.

It’s hard to predict which way Baker might fall.

A spokesman said the Boston Public Schools officials said the state’s largest school district “follows the Mass. Department of Public Health immunization requirements.”

Baker mandated flu vaccines for all school children 6 months and older in August. The move was intended to reduce flu-related illness and the overall impact of respiratory illness — including the strain on hospitals — during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state Department of Public Health abruptly rescinded the mandate that sparked protests and drew lawsuits in January in favor of focusing resources on instead distributing the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Preliminary data show that this has been a mild flu season to date … we want to alleviate the burden to obtain flu vaccination and focus on continuing our COVID-19 vaccination efforts,” officials said in a statement at the time.

The statement noted the department “continues to strongly recommend” everyone over 6 months receive a flu vaccine, but DPH officials did not respond to a request for clarification about whether students would be required to get the flu vaccine in future years.

Baker has stood in vehement opposition to suggestions of a vaccine mandate for public-facing employees, reiterating again on Monday, “I’m not going to play that game.”

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