By Mary Koslap-Petraco DNP, PPCNP-BC, CPNP, FAANP
COVID-19 made the last 16 months challenging for most families, but the availability of vaccines offers us all the promise of returning to life as we knew it. With children returning to school in less than a month, parents and health care providers need to work together to ensure students are vaccinated — both for COVID-19, if they are eligible, and for other diseases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a reduction of 2.5 million doses for all routine noninfluenza childhood vaccines administered to children from January 6 through April 20 of 2020, compared to January 7 through April 21 in 2019. That figure is troubling, but as a nurse practitioner (NP) who sees patients every day, I can attest to its accuracy. This drop in childhood vaccinations is worrying and could lead to another measles epidemic or an increase in pertussis (also known as whooping cough).
How do we turn this trend around and ensure that children are vaccinated and ready to return to school this fall? As the pandemic progresses, more and more families are bringing their children back to primary care, enabling them to catch up on missed vaccinations — and for those children who are eligible — to vaccination sites where they can receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
As an NP and volunteer at mass clinics in my county, I couldn’t wait to get my COVID-19 vaccine and became teary-eyed when the public health nurse in my county administered my shot. Being vaccinated against COVID-19 was a fabulous experience! I get goosebumps every time a patient steps up for this lifesaving vaccine.
With recent surges in COVID-19 variants, NPs and other health care providers are bringing care into their communities in order to reach as many patients as possible. I have been directly reaching out to parents and offering to do house calls for vaccinations and school physicals through my practice. A growing number of health care providers are now providing these types of services, and you might be able to take advantage of them. Check with your primary care provider to see if they have this service available if you are worried about visiting a health care setting. While I care for children as a pediatric NP, I never miss an opportunity to remind parents that they also need vaccines. This ensures that the entire family has the chance to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations along with their flu shot or any others they may have missed over the last year and a half.
Which vaccines do your children need? This table from the CDC highlights the critical vaccinations recommended for children by age. The CDC also recommends that all children 12 years and older receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
It’s also time to prepare college-bound students for their return to school. Many universities require students to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations before the start of the fall semester, so be sure to get your young adults scheduled to receive all doses in time. In addition to the COVID-19 vaccine, are your college students up to date on all other vaccines? If not, this is an opportune time to get your them caught up before they head off to school. It is critical that they are up to date on their meningococcal B vaccine, as meningococcal disease has been present on college campuses since 2013. Have your young adults received a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine? As a health care provider, I want to stress the importance of being protected from cervical, penile and other cancers caused by HPV.
Reading this blog, you might have gotten the impression that I am incredibly passionate about vaccinations. You’re absolutely right. My family has been personally affected by vaccine-preventable diseases. My mother, who died at age 98, had polio at age three and suffered from post-polio syndrome. My grandmother, for whom I am named, died in 1955 from cervical cancer. Another family member had tonsil cancer caused by HPV. My sister almost died from measles when we were children. Now, we live during a time when science and health care can stop vaccine-preventable diseases completely! We did it with smallpox, and we have come very close to eliminating polio. Currently, with the help of vaccines, we are making great strides to stop COVID-19 in its tracks. Vaccines save lives.
As you prepare to get your child caught up on their vaccinations so they can return to in-person school, consider an NP for your health care needs. We are here for you and your family.