For parents, the end of summer entails a lot of rushing around to get their children ready to go back to school. Stocking up on school supplies, making sure they have appropriate clothing that fits, pushing them to finish summer assignments, and perhaps moving them toward a school year sleep schedule.
But don’t forget their health needs. Here's a simple checklist to make sure your children are medically covered for the school year:
1. Immunizations: The most effective way of preventing many major diseases is immunizations. Children get a cluster of immunizations when they are four and about to enter kindergarten, when they are 11 and in middle school, and before they start college.
a. Pre-K: Assuming your child had all of his or her baby immunizations, at age 4 your child needs to boost his or her immunity for measles, mumps, and German measles (MMR); chickenpox (Varicella); tetanus/whooping cough (DTAP); and polio (IPV).
b. Middle School: At 11, your child needs to get a more mature form of the tetanus/whooping cough immunization (TDAP) and an immunization that prevents many types of meningitis (meningococcal vaccine).
c. Pre-College: Many colleges and doctors suggest boosting the meningococcal and TDAP vaccines before college begins.
d. Hepatitis A: A disease your child can get when the person who prepares your child’s food does not wash his or her hands thoroughly, can be prevented with a shot that has almost no side effects. This is now given routinely at 12 and 18 months, but children older than 6 or 7 may not have gotten it. You should check and see if your child is protected.
e. The HPV vaccine: Available to anyone between the ages of 9 and 26, is a marvelous medical advance. Because of insurance consideration, most doctors do not suggest this series until age 11. There has been much incorrect and confusing information reported by the press, by politicians, and online about HPV. Repeated controlled studies have shown that this 3 shot series is very safe and the only immunization that is able to protect against cancer. In fact, it has already lowered the number of young people carrying this sexually acquired disease. This vaccine is extremely effective in preventing cervical cancer in women and rectal and throat cancers in both men and women.
2. Athletics: If your child is playing high school sports in Pennsylvania, he or she will need to have the PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association) form that is specific to your school filled out. Because of recent changes initiated by the Pennsylvania chapter of the America Academy of Pediatrics, any complete physical within 12 months of the start of your sport season will work for this form. Doctors who take care of kids get extraordinarily busy during the last two weeks of August, and (in the future) remembering this form in the beginning of the summer rather than the end will make the process easier for you.
3. Medicines in School: If your child needs to take medicine in school (such as an inhaler for asthma), all schools will require written permission from you, the parent, and some schools require written permission from the child’s healthcare provider. Again, the earlier in the summer you get this process going, the quicker you will get your forms back to you. Many schools require that permission to give medicine be on a specific form that both you and your child’s doctors must sign.
4. Allergies: If your child has a food or environmental allergy or intolerance, schools will need this information clearly presented to them in writing. Again, many schools require this information on a specialized form that you obtain from the school. If your child is intolerant of something that is standard in school (for instance, milk), it would be a good idea to provide your child with an alternative that they can take to school with them. This will help prevent them from feeling uncomfortable.
5. Physician letters: If your child is unable to participate in certain school activities, such as exercise and athletics, all schools require a form or a letter from your medical provider on letterhead. Since physical activity is almost always recommended by your medical professional, they will probably just ask that your child does a modification of the exercise, so that your child may benefit as much as he or she is able.
A version of this post appeared in @Jeff, the blog of Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals.
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