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Back-to-School Vaccinations

Mark T. Jansen, MD
Chief Medical Officer
Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield

As students return to the classroom, it’s crucial they are up to date on all their vaccines. Staying up to date on immunizations helps protect them, their families, school faculty and our larger communities from potential outbreaks of dangerous diseases. It also helps prevent serious complications for the most vulnerable populations. And, with diseases like polio being found in wastewater, it’s even more crucial that children get their vaccinations to ensure they’re fully protected.

The COVID-19 pandemic, along with concerns around COVID-19 vaccines, was anticipated to cause disruptions that would lower vaccination rates in the 2020–21 academic year, and it did. In 2021, the world’s vaccination rate decreased by 2 million compared to 2020 and by 6 million compared to 2019, leaving 25 million adolescents without access to life-saving immunizations. According to UNICEF, these numbers illustrate the greatest decrease in childhood immunization rates in about 30 years.

Recommended Vaccines for Children and Adolescents

For children and adolescents attending public or private schools in Arkansas, several immunizations are required by law, and institutions may have additional policies in place. It’s important to review the requirements put in place by your child’s school and discuss them with their healthcare provider to ensure they’re up to date on all necessary vaccinations.

The top immunizations the CDC recommends for children and adolescents are:

  • Flu
    • Influenza (flu) is a very contagious viral infection that affects the air passages of the lungs. Young children and children with certain underlying health conditions are at increased risk for a hospital stay or severe or complicated influenza infection.
  • Chickenpox
    • Chickenpox is a highly infectious disease that usually occurs during childhood. Even healthy children can develop complications from chickenpox, most frequently severe skin infections. Transmission occurs from person to person by direct touch or through the air by coughing or sneezing.
  • MMR (Measles, mumps, rubella)
    • Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) is a childhood combination vaccine against mumps, measles, and rubella, viruses caused by airborne droplets from the upper respiratory tract. Many kids exhibit no symptoms or minor ones, but they can look like other conditions or medical problems.
  • HPV
    • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a family of viruses that can lead to wart-like growths called papilloma or even cancer. Many people exposed to HPV recover from the infection with their immune system in one to two years, but for some people, the illness lingers. In some cases, a persistent infection may cause cancer.
  • Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis)
    • Tetanus is a central nervous system condition that can be lethal. It is brought on by a poison (toxin) that the tetanus bacterium produces. Tetanus symptoms can appear anywhere between 3 and 21 days after exposure. Pertussis is better known by its common name, “whooping cough.” It can cause severe weekslong coughing in adults and severe infection in young children that can even be fatal.

The CDC also recommends several other vaccinations for students based on their ages. By staying up to date with vaccinations, we’re able to create healthier, safer environments for all children to learn and thrive.

Vaccines are part of our Whole Person Health

Children should be prepared and at their best for learning and socializing throughout the school year. Our “whole person health” approach to care includes empowering kids and their parents to receive their yearly wellness exams and recommended vaccines. This is crucial, as we frequently take our health for granted until a problem arises. It might be easy to overlook vaccination schedules when we are preoccupied with day-to-day activities. But, it’s important to keep them top of mind to keep children safe.

Vaccinations not only keep children healthy, but they also keep our communities safe. Diseases can spread quickly through a community and infect many people. When many people are immunized against a particular disease, it is less likely to spread. By maintaining high vaccination rates, we protect ourselves and vulnerable individuals (such as elderly family members and community members) who have not yet been fully vaccinated.

You can ask your child’s teachers and administrators about the school’s or district’s vaccine requirements. You can also ask your child’s healthcare provider about what immunizations are right for them.

Physical and emotional health are intrinsically connected. Making sure your kids are physically protected from childhood illnesses and diseases provides you peace of mind. Lowering your child’s risk of missing important class time and fun after-school activities can reassure them. A “whole person health” approach benefits all of us.

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