Protect yourself, family as you head back to work and school after holidays

This opinion piece appeared in the Macomb Daily. Read more here.

As a pediatric nurse practitioner working in Henry Ford Health’s School-based and Community Health Program, I provide comprehensive preventative care services for children and teens in a school-based clinic, including health screenings and vaccinations. I counsel my patients and their caregivers about vaccine-preventable diseases to prevent illness and the spread of disease in their school and community.

I’ve worked in school health most of my career, with nearly 30 years of experience in pediatric care. With this experience comes the knowledge that the best way to prevent spread of disease in schools and communities is through vaccination.

As we go back to school and work after the holidays, we have to think of the risk of sharing germs and spreading respiratory viruses, like COVID-19, the flu and RSV. And while there isn’t a vaccine for RSV yet, it’s important to make sure your children are caught up on all recommended vaccines, including routine childhood vaccinations, COVID-19 initial doses and boosters, and the seasonal flu vaccine, so they don’t miss out on classes, sports and other activities.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have authorized an updated COVID-19 booster, called the omicron bivalent booster, that targets the most recent and more contagious variants (BA.4 and BA.5). This booster is available for everyone ages 6 months and older who have received their primary series. I urge families to get boosted as soon as possible, if eligible, to gain this added protection.

I also want to encourage families to not underestimate the flu, as Michigan is currently seeing a high level of flu activity. The flu is not just a bad cold, and the false myth still exists that the flu isn’t that serious. During the 2019-2020 flu season, 188 children lost their lives to the flu, which is 188 too many.

Every winter, I see children who get very ill with the flu and require inpatient hospital care, emergency room visits, missed school days, missed work days for parents and missed opportunities for sporting events and social events. Children with asthma and chronic conditions are especially at risk for hospitalization and complications from the flu.

Parents, grandparents, and caregivers for children should know that getting a flu shot annually helps protect you and reduces the risk of getting the flu in the first place. If you do get the flu, the vaccine makes it much less likely you’ll get seriously ill. It’s not too late to get a flu vaccine, but it does take around two weeks after vaccination for your body to build up protection from the flu.

Your decision to vaccinate (or not) affects more than just your child. A vaccinated community helps protect those who can’t get vaccinated because they’re too young or immunocompromised, like friends and family battling chronic illnesses or going through cancer treatment.

For your children and loved ones in a classroom setting, my recommendation is to protect them now through vaccination, so you don’t miss out on school, work, planned trips and the many indoor events we enjoy during the winter months.

To learn more, I recommend credible sources like Michigan.gov/COVIDvaccine, Michigan.gov/Flu, or IVaccinate.org for up-to-date information and answers to your questions.

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I Vaccinate provides information and tools based on real medical science and research to help Michigan parents protect their kids. Support is provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Franny Strong Foundation.

You’ve got questions. That’s a good thing.

As parents, determining how best to protect our children can be overwhelming and confusing. We’re here to help.

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