Summer is unfortunately more than halfway over, and that means the school year will be starting before we know it. This past 2020-2021 school year was taxing on us all — children, parents, teachers, administrators — so let’s prepare for an even better one this upcoming school year by ensuring everyone has the recommended and required vaccinations.
Why are vaccines so important anyways? Vaccines are what we use to protect ourselves against viruses (much like when we take antibiotics when we have a bacterial infection). A virus, unlike bacteria, is a non-living entity, which means it needs a live host in order to survive, i.e. humans. When you receive a vaccine, it helps your body’s natural immune system create antibodies against that specific virus so that when you encounter this virus in the future, you have immunity or protection from this virus surviving in your body. Your antibodies are your body’s natural soldiers protecting you from things that can harm you. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 vaccine is not yet approved for children younger than 12, which is why it is so important for the rest of us to get vaccinated so we can help protect our children and vulnerable members of the population from this deadly virus. As of July 26, only 48% of the Cayuga County population is fully vaccinated and protected.
On May 10, the FDA authorized the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 12 and older. The Pfizer vaccine is a series of two doses, 21 days apart. A person is considered fully immunized (or protected) against COVID-19 14 days after the second dose. This means a child age 12 to 17 who receives both doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be fully immunized after 35 days. Note: The school year starts in 44 days! While the COVID-19 vaccine is not currently required in New York state for children to return to school this fall, the Cayuga County Health Department is highly recommending parents vaccinate their children who are eligible to receive the vaccine. This is because of the fact that, per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person will not have to undergo a 10-day mandatory quarantine when they are exposed to COVID-19 if they are fully vaccinated. If you have questions or concerns in regards to vaccinating your child(ren) against COVID-19, the Cayuga County Health Department is encouraging you to reach out to your health care provider.
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We all know that when our children go back to school, they are exposed to many different germs and illnesses spread primarily through poor hand hygiene and kids coming to school when they are not feeling well. The Cayuga County Health Department strongly encourages parents to keep their children home when they have any symptoms of COVID-19, which may include runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat, cough, headache, nausea/vomiting/diarrhea, fatigue and/or fever. Even if the symptoms are mild, the department encourages parents to keep their children home if they are sick because COVID-19 mimics many other common illnesses, so get them tested immediately for COVID-19 so that it can be ruled out as the source of your child’s symptoms.
The Cayuga County Health Department also wants to remind parents about the New York state required immunizations for children going back to school this fall. It is in New York State Public Health Law (Public Health Law Section 2164 and New York Codes, Rules and Regulations Title 10, Subpart 66-1) that a child attending prekindergarten (which includes day care, Head Start and nursery school programs) through 12th grade in a public, private and/or parochial school receives vaccinations against: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliomyelitis, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, varicella (chicken pox), haemophilus influenza B (hib), and meningococcal and streptococcus pneumonia.
The number of infectious cases of these diseases has greatly diminished because people are vaccinated against them. Check out the New York State Department of Health website at health.ny.gov for more information about the required vaccinations for your child(ren). Schedule your child’s back-to-school immunization with their pediatrician or by calling the Cayuga County Health Department.
Molly Burke, MPH, is a senior public health educator with the Cayuga County Health Department. For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, contact the health department at (315) 253-1560, visit cayugacounty.us/153/health-department or like and follow the department on Facebook and Instagram at @CayugaCountyHealthDept.