TRENTON, NJ – With the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, many health care experts are raising concerns about the impact of the upcoming flu season. Since patients may experience the same symptoms for the common flu and the coronavirus it can make it difficult to differentiate between them.

State lawmaker Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington) wants to protect patients from the traditional flu by requiring that all students in schools, child care, and higher education institutions get vaccinated. The measure also is intended to “help reduce competition among flu and COVID-19 patients for similar medical resources.”

“Though we have a safe and effective vaccine, only 73% of us get vaccinated against seasonal flu. Protecting our society through increased influenza vaccination rates will enable us to weather the coming storm of COVID-19,” said Conaway, who serves as chairman of the Assembly Health Committee.

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Under the legislation, Assembly Bill (A-4576), students who attend a public or private kindergarten through grade 12 school, preschool, child care center, or institution of higher education would need to be vaccinated annually for influenza as a condition of enrollment and continued attendance at the school or center.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the “flu vaccination will be very important to reduce flu because it can help reduce the overall impact of respiratory illnesses on the population and thus lessen the resulting burden on the healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

There is no vaccine for COVID-19 (coronavirus) at the present time.

Currently, the students in public or private kindergarten through grade 12 schools, child care centers and preschools in New Jersey are required to be vaccinated for various contagious and dangerous diseases in order to attend.  Diseases with available vaccines include diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, mumps, pertussis, pneumococcal disease, polio, rubella, tetanus, and varicella, as a condition of attendance. 

Higher education students are required to prove that they have received these vaccines in order to attend.

“As schools reopen, allowing increasing numbers to return to work, we must remain vigilant against the predicted fall resurgence of COVID-19 and the return of seasonal flu,” said Conaway, who is also an internal medicine physician and serves as the Burlington County Health Director.

Last week New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichelli warned that the coronavirus and traditional flu system could potentially cause a “twin-demic.”

“As we enter the fall season, we are also moving into the flu season. This year we are preparing for the possibility of a twin-demic,” Persichilli said. “A severe flu season and a resurgence of COVID-19 could constrain healthcare resources. Therefore, this year, more than ever, it is important that everyone six months of age or older get vaccinated against the flu.”

“These twin killers have the potential to overwhelm hospital and other healthcare systems and cause another social and economic shutdown,” added Conaway. 

The CDC indicates that between 194 and 198 million doses of the vaccine will be available this flu season and manufacturers are not indicating any delays in distribution.

The New Jersey Coalition for Vaccination Choice is advocating against the passage of the flu vaccine mandate. According to their website, the organization says that “the flu shot is notoriously ineffective (can be as low as 10-15%). Effectiveness can decrease following multiple years of uptake.”

The proposed law allows for an exemption from the flu vaccination if a physician certifies that it would be “medically contraindicated” for the student. An exemption also would be allowed for those who have “conflicts with the bona fide religious tenets or practices.”

“The best defense is a good offense. Let's protect one another by masking up and "vaccing" up,” added Conaway. “Together we'll make it through.”

A spokesperson for Conaway said that the measure could be heard before the Health Committee as early as October. If it becomes law, it would take effect immediately.

The Senate companion bill (S-2907) is sponsored Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairman Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex).

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