SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- As thousands of families continue to protest the state's flu vaccine mandate, Western Mass News took a closer look at the arguments regarding religious exemptions.

The mandate, requiring students to receive the flu shot, comes as state health officials fear an overwhelming number of flu hospitalizations could drain health resources to fight COVID-19.

Both the Connecticut and Massachusetts legislatures considered bills to end religious exemptions for vaccines within the last year, neither one has passed, but with that issue looming large on parents' minds, Western Mass News spoke with an attorney about the constitutionality of the issue.

Hundreds of protesters rallying this weekend against Massachusetts' flu shot mandated, requiring all children six months and older to get vaccinated if they attend daycare, school, or college in the state.

With other required vaccines in Massachusetts, the law states religious exemptions are allowed to quote, "In the absence of an emergency or epidemic of disease declared by the department of public health."

Concerning the flu shot mandate, Senator Eric Lesser said religious exemptions will be granted. He also said because enforcement is on the local level, families seeking a religious exemption will have to make their case to their local school and health department.

"They’re free to contact their school nurse, their school health authorities if they have questions, and those will be handled on a case by case basis," Lesser explained.

Western Mass News spoke with attorney Joe Pacella, who said any municipality attempting to block a religious exemption could face a bigger legal battle.

"It will get challenged in the court on a constitutional ground with respect to freedom of religion," Pacella explained.

Massachusetts' religious exemption law requires the family to state in writing how a shot conflicts their sincerely held religious belief. In the context of a potential legal battle, Pacella said what might prove one's religious views are authentic.

"If I was on the government's case, I would be looking for medical records to see if they have been vaccinated before. I would be asking them, if I had a deposition, I would ask them basically if they follow through with their religious training that’s required," he noted.

Students have until December 31 to get the shot. Unlike with COVID-19, young children under five are susceptible to developing flu-related health complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Copyright 2020 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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