On September 2, 2020

State prepares for flu season amid pandemic

Mandatory flu vaccinations for K-12 students considered

Staff report

Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD said at a press conference Friday, Aug. 28, that preparations are beginning for flu season, with the goals of keeping Vermonters healthy and to have the rate of flu be as low as possible to ensure that Vermonters do not face a “twindemic” of both flu and Covid-19 cases this winter.

“Our primary focus will be to increase the rate of vaccination, especially among children and teens,” Dr. Levine said.

Last year only 42.6% of children ages 5-12 and 35.5% of teens 13-17 received the flu vaccine. “We can and must do better,” Levine said.

However, Levine emphasized that no decision has yet been made to require universal flu vaccine for all K-12 students. Currently, only one state, Massachusetts, has moved to require flu vaccination for students.

“A policy decision of whether to do so is still under consideration — driven, as always, by the data and science,” Levine said. “But as a physician and a public health chief, I would be shirking my responsibility to protect the health of Vermonters if we did not at least explore the merits as well as the weaknesses of every potential public health intervention.”

Friday, Levine also addressed the controversy around some changes to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) testing guidance, saying that Vermont’s recommendations will not change.

The CDC on Monday, Aug. 24, changed its guidance to recommend that people who don’t have symptoms might not need to be tested, even if they have spent 15 minutes within 6 feet of someone who is infected with the Covid-19 virus.

Levine acknowledged the political conjecture prompted by the CDC’s policy change, citing “what may be questionable policy choices at the top.”

However, CDC Director Robert Redfield on Thursday, Aug. 27, clarified that people who come in contact with confirmed or probable Covid-19 patients can be tested themselves — somewhat confusing the message, which seemingly is meant to leave the option for testing up to the individuals.

In Vermont, people who have Covid-19 symptoms should absolutely be tested, in addition to anyone who receives a recommendation from a provider to be tested, Levine reiterated. Those who have had close contact (being within 6 feet for about 15 minutes or more) with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 should certainly be tested, Dr. Levine said, and if these people are part of or interact with a vulnerable population, “we might strongly encourage testing,” he added.

Levine also stressed that anyone identified as a close contact also needs to quarantine for 14 days to prevent any possible spread of the virus.

The CDC also leaves the need for a travel-related quarantine up to states. Vermont still has the same policy and map that calls for the need for quarantine from yellow or red zones.

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