Local health departments urge parents to make sure children are up to date on recommended childhood vaccines, including COVID-19, before the school year starts. Children who may have missed important childhood vaccinations during the last two years are at risk for measles, chickenpox, meningitis and other vaccine-preventable diseases.
“As you put together your back-to-school list, put immunizations near the top of that list. Getting your children immunized is one of the most important things you can do to safeguard your children’s health and keep them in school,” says Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.
Vaccinations are required in both Kansas and Missouri for students to start kindergarten. Additional vaccines are also required for middle and high school students.
Immunization data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment shows that two months into the 2020-2021 school year, some Kansas kindergartners had not yet completed the final dose of their diphtheria/tetanus/whooping cough (pertussis), measles, polio and chickenpox vaccination series. Health officials encourage parents and caregivers to speak with their child’s health care provider to find out if their child is missing any required doses, so they don’t miss any days of school. The discussion should also include getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 30.2% of children ages 5-11 and 60.2% of children ages 12-17 in the United States are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Even fewer have received a booster – 2.8% of children ages 5-11 and 16.7% of children ages 12-17.
Currently, the CDC puts the Kansas City metropolitan area in the medium-to-high level for COVID-19 community spread. As children go back to school and gather in classrooms without masks, this could lead to additional infections and more children missing school, sports and extra-curricular activities, says Areola.
Even though most children who get COVID-19 experience mild illness, health officials still recommend vaccination to prevent severe disease and long COVID symptoms.
“Make sure your child completes the COVID-19 vaccination series and gets a booster if they are eligible. If your child does test positive for COVID-19, follow CDC’s quarantine and isolation guidelines to reduce the spread of illness,” says Areola.
COVID-19 vaccines are free of charge and available at local health departments, clinics and pharmacies. Parents can search for a nearby vaccine provider at Vaccines.gov.
Many local health departments (some located on or near RideKC routes) offer walk-in hours for immunizations while others offer appointments so parents and caregivers can bring in their children when it’s convenient for them. If a parent does not have health insurance, or if their insurance does not cover vaccines, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program offers vaccines at no cost to eligible children through health care providers enrolled in the program.
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