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Back to school: Minnesota parents urged to get child immunizations up-to-date in the pandemic

A Twin Cities doctor is encouraging families to catch up on childhood vaccinations ahead of the new school year.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — In the midst of a pandemic, health experts say it is more important than ever to protect children from other infectious diseases when they return to school this fall. 

For most Minnesota students, the 2021-22 school season begins on Sept. 7. Doctors say routine immunizations will help kids have a healthy start to their school year. Immunizations are required for most students. 

Parents and guardians, now is a great time to ensure your kids are prepared, healthy and have all their childhood vaccinations. Doctors say vaccines like MMR, TdaP and HPV have successfully protected children from measles, mumps, diptheria and other infectious diseases for decades.

According to the World Health Organization, 23 million children missed routine immunizations because of pandemic disruptions. The WHO says 17 million of them did not receive a single vaccine last year. Here in Minnesota, a June CDC report saw large declines in vaccines for young children. Shots are down 3% to 7% compared with previous years. 

The drops were more significant for kids ages 9 to 17 and decreased between 27% to 74% for specific age groups receiving TdaP (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis) and HPV vaccines.

“It is really concerning that we are behind with child and adolescent vaccines because they protect children and teens from highly contagious and dangerous diseases like measles, mumps, diphtheria, hepatitis, chicken pox, whooping cough, types of meningitis and some viruses that cause cancer,” said Dr. Julia Joseph-Di Caprio, UCare Chief Medical Officer.

“Last year, when the pandemic began, clinics and health systems had to close to everything but serious medical problems because they were busy with COVID-19,” Dr. Joseph-Di Caprio said. "When they reopened, many parents were afraid to bring their children in for well visits, so children got behind on preventive care including immunizations."

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the concern is that, when schools re-open, Minnesota will start to see increases in infectious diseases that took a back seat during COVID.

"No one should be afraid to bring their child or teen in for their well visits," Dr. Joseph-Di Caprio said. "Clinics have safety protocols in place. If your child fell behind on vaccines, don’t worry, you have time to catch up!” 

Right now, COVID-19 shots are available to anyone age 12 and over at no charge. Vaccination studies are underway for younger children, but no official CDC authorization date has been announced for that group. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Joseph-Di Caprio is urging all parents and guardians to call their child’s or teen’s clinic to get shots if they are due or overdue for their vaccines. UCare has a handy Child & Teen Checkup schedule, and MDH has a chart of school required immunizations at different ages.

As far as flu vaccines go, Dr. Joseph-Di Caprio said she supports them.

"Absolutely. Flu shots will be available soon, and I highly recommend children get a flu shot, especially with the return of in-person learning and socializing," she said. "The flu can be dangerous. Plus, we don’t want a 'twindemic' this fall and winter with children getting the flu and COVID-19.”