As children return to classrooms this fall, there is understandable concern about what respiratory infections they may be exposed to and how to protect them. COVID-19 continues to be top of mind, with the CDC recently releasing new guidelines for going back to school. But it is not the only threat. As we enter the high infection season, flu, pertussis and RSV numbers are also projected to soar, and the highly contagious monkeypox is on the rise. Dr. Juanita Mora, an allergist/immunologist in Chicago, shared her expert advice about what should be top of mind for back-to-school health safety.

Tip #1: Get your child vaccinated

As COVID-19 precautions continue to be part of our daily lives this is the time to make sure your child is up to date on their vaccinations. It is especially important now because we are relaxing a lot of safety measures. For example, the recently updated CDC guidelines no longer require a physical distance of 6 feet, and children who have been exposed to COVID-19, even if they are unvaccinated, are allowed to remain in the classroom, though they will be asked to wear a mask for 10 days.

According to the White House, we should expect 100,000,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. this fall. So, it is essential for parents to get their children COVID-19 vaccinated at this time.

When parents ask me why it is so important to get their child vaccinated, I give them my top three reasons:

  1. To protect the children themselves as safety measures change.
  2. To protect those around them, their families and the community, because often kids are vectors of transmission.
  3. And, if kids are vaccinated, it will help keep the school doors open and children will be able to go back to a more traditional class and social schedule. And when kids are healthy, that is a better learning environment.

Three common reasons parents aren’t vaccinating their children, debunked

1. I didn’t know it was available for my child
Many patients are unaware that children under 5 are now eligible. Currently there are two vaccines available for children 6 months and older. I commonly talk through both vaccines with my patients and help them choose which is best for their situation.

2. Children don’t get that sick from COVID-19
This is completely false. COVID-19 can cause severe illness in kids, even kids without underlying conditions, and can result in hospitalization with life-threatening complications. We’ve lost 1,000 kids to this pandemic; we can’t lose one more.

3. Children get bad side-effects from the vaccine
We've now vaccinated millions of children in the United States, and we have not had many adverse side effects. In my own personal practice, where I have vaccinated many children, I have only seen fever, headache and maybe pain at the site. But that's it.

This is also prime time for flu so, once they become available for the seasonal vaccination, I encourage parents to get the shot. It should be noted that it is safe to get both the COVID and flu vaccine at the same time, so there is no need to wait.

Tip #2: Practice good hygiene habits

We need to teach kids to practice healthy hygiene. This means encouraging them to wash their hands frequently or use hand sanitizer. This is important for all respiratory infections that they may be exposed to including flu, RSV and common colds.

In addition, they should not share items like school supplies or gym towels or clothing. In the past this may have been common, but because of how easily things can spread, kids need to be more mindful about keeping their germs to themselves. Carrying Clorox wipes and wiping down tables and chairs when they transfer from room to room is another good practice to decrease the possibility of passing on infections by contaminated surfaces.

Tip #3: When in doubt, wear a mask

Even though it is no longer required, there are a number of reasons your kids should wear masks at school. The first being if your child is not vaccinated. They should also wear a mask if someone at home is not vaccinated or is part of a more vulnerable population. For example, if a child lives with a grandparent or someone with a chronic heart or lung condition, wearing a mask at school is a good idea.

For more back-to-school lung health tips, visit our Back to School with Asthma Page and our Talk to Your Child about the Dangers of Vaping.
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