The demonstration was held in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston with protesters holding signs that read “My child, my choice” and “Bodily autonomy is a human right.”
“No forced shots” was also written in chalk outside the building.
The protesters called on Republican Gov. Charlie Baker to rescind a state mandate from Aug. 19 requiring students 6 months and older to get the flu vaccine by Dec. 31 for this school year, unless a medical or religious exemption is given.
The mandate, believed to be the first in the country, includes students in child care, pre-school, kindergarten and K-12, as well as full-time undergraduate and graduate students under 30, and all full- and part-time health science students.
Officials fear the flu season and coronavirus pandemic will overwhelm the health care system, according to the Boston Globe.
“I would hope people would understand this is an important part of how we continue to fight the [corona]virus here in Massachusetts,” Baker said on Aug. 20. “The more people who get the flu shot don’t get the flu and don’t wind up in the ER.”
Some of the parents at the protest said they didn’t want to be labeled anti-vaccine but didn’t agree with the new rule.
“The flu vaccine should not be a mandate,” Jessica Marchant told WCVB 5. “It should be a choice.”
Taryn Proulx told the local station that the state “backed us into a corner” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think parents are vulnerable right now,” she said. “We feel like we have to just comply or rearrange our whole lives and homeschool our children.”
Homeschooled children and higher education students who are completely off-campus and learning remotely are also exempted.
Protest organizers said social distancing requirements would apply to the gathering, but many protesters were maskless and, at one point, the speaker called on the crowd to hug one another.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot each year by the end of October.
Health experts say protection against the flu may also help ward off coronavirus.
“There’s evidence, for example, that having influenza may predispose (someone) to getting COVID-19,” Dr. Robert Finberg, an infectious disease specialist at UMass Memorial Health Care, told WCVB. “In addition, having two viruses is much worse than having one.”
A health department spokesperson released a statement Sunday underscoring the importance of the vaccine considering the flu season will overlap with the coronavirus crisis.
“As students return to in-person learning in the classroom, this vaccine requirement provides an additional and necessary layer of protection and safety,” the statement said.