TRENTON — Hundreds of parents and children showed up at the Statehouse on Thursday to protest proposed legislation that would require all students to get a flu shot.

Supporters of the mandatory flu shot measure say it will cut down significantly on hospital emergency room visits in the coming months, which could be important if there’s a second wave of COVID-19.

But opponents described the proposed public health measure as "tyranny."

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“I believe it is my choice and my privilege as the parent of my child to decide what enters his body and what does not enter his body,” said Stephanie Locricchio, one of the organizers of the protest and the founder of the Wellness Warriors Revolution parental group.

“To mandate this on all children in exchange for the public education that they’re constitutionally entitled to seems like a gross violation of our human rights and bodily sovereignty," she said. "We are not for anything being mandated to be put into our children’s body.”

Locricchio said that giving lawmakers the power to decide children must get a flu shot is overreach.

Co-organizer Ayla Wolf, the founder of New Jersey for Medical Freedom, said trying to force people to get flu shots is outrageous.

“The government has no business making medical decisions for our bodies and our children. They are trying to interfere with our relationships with our own doctors,” she said.

She also said some studies indicate influenza vaccine can cause severe reactions in certain people, so “it is unacceptable as far as taking our freedoms away, mandating medical procedures that have no liability. If you get sick or die there’s no recourse for us.”

Elaine McCallion, of Keyport, brought her three children to the protest to oppose the idea of a forced flu shot.

“I think it should be our choice, parents choice,” she said. “These are my children, I gave birth to them, I want them to grow up knowing they have the freedom to choose what they want to do with their bodies.”

Wolf said requiring flu shots will open the door to other mandatory vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines in development, which she said many people are concerned about because the process has been rushed without proper testing and other vaccine protocols.

The measure A4575 is sponsored by Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, and state Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex. So far the legislation has not been scheduled for a vote in either chamber.

Health officials and scientists who study infections say that it's important for as many as possible to get vaccinated, not only to protect themselves but to protect others who are unable to get vaccinated for serious health reasons.

In recent years, New Jersey has seen an uptick in the the number of children claiming religious exemptions from vaccines — something that lawmakers tried to address last year but were unsuccessful after an outcry from a vocal minority of opponents.

The nation's leading epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, on Thursday chatted with Gov. Phil Murphy about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines under development.

He said trials are conducted by an independent group of scientists, vaccinologists, ethicists and statistician.

"That group is not beholden to the company, not beholden to the FDA, not beholden to the president, and not beholden to me. They're independent," Fauci said. "The fact that it is deemed to be safe and effective is going to get a lot of public scrutiny, so I think people need to appreciate that if somebody tries to make an end-run ... it's going to be public — people will know that that's what's going on."

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