April 23, 2024

North Country health officials say now’s the time for back-to-school shots

Student receiving vaccination. Photo: Army Medicine, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

The North Country’s children are just weeks away from heading back to school.

In New York state, that means they have to be up-to-date on all their vaccines, like for measles, polio and chickenpox. St. Lawrence County Public Health Department Deputy Director Carly Zimmerman said immunizations are still the best way to prevent illness and lasting impacts from vaccine-preventable diseases.

“Students who are not fully vaccinated unfortunately … pose a risk for creating a disease outbreak in their own communities just by attending school,” she said.

Zimmerman spoke with Champlain Valley reporter Cara Chapman about how families can get their kids the shots they need and how COVID has affected immunization efforts. Their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Cara ChapmanNorth Country health officials say now’s the time for back-to-school shots

CARLY ZIMMERMAN: At this point, I think most people have experienced firsthand that domino effect that can happen with the spread of COVID-19 from one person to the next. And this can be really true for many other vaccine-preventable conditions, too, not just COVID.

CARA CHAPMAN: Speaking of COVID, we’ve seen immunization of school-aged children face some setbacks during the pandemic, like when children weren’t going to school in-person for long periods of time. How did that play out in St. Lawrence County and the North Country? Have things rebounded at all since then?

ZIMMERMAN: The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely resulted in some difficulties. There have been some reservations regarding accessing health care, even primary care. So children going to see their doctor for their well-child visit and getting the vaccines that they needed just didn’t happen at the same frequency. We are still doing quite a bit of work on education and getting information out to the community about increasing those rates of vaccination. It’s certainly a work in progress.

CHAPMAN: How have people’s approaches to and attitudes toward vaccinating their kids changed over the last few years?

ZIMMERMAN: I think people certainly have their questions regarding vaccinations. And I think there’ve been some concerns regarding the rollout of the [COVID] vaccines and the speed at which they were rolled out. However, there’s been a lot of information that has been put out about the safety of the vaccines and the requirements and the rigorous studies that need to occur before those vaccines are actually released to the public. But I think in general, there’s just been a lot of concerns voiced.

CHAPMAN: What’s your message to parents and families who are feeling apprehensive about getting their children vaccinated?

ZIMMERMAN: Ask your questions. Don’t be concerned or hang on to that anxiety. You can reach out to your primary care provider and they are happy to talk with you. They’re the ones who are most familiar with you and your child’s health. You can also look at some resources online. We have information on our website and the American Academy of Pediatrics, state Department of Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are all great, reputable resources to get those questions answered.

CHAPMAN: What’s the easiest way for families to get their children vaccinated?

ZIMMERMAN: Reaching out to your child’s doctor’s office and just seeing if they can fit you in for vaccinations. Or you can call to see what vaccinations are needed. We’re really encouraging parents and guardians to do that now, just before the fall, before those appointments start to fill up. If parents or guardians aren’t able to get those appointments with the pediatrician, they can certainly come to our clinic here at the St. Lawrence County Public Health Department.

Note: Starting this week, St. Lawrence County Public Health is offering back-to-school vaccines from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Zimmerman said they’re holding extended hours on Wednesday, Aug. 9 and Monday, Aug. 21 from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Appointments are required and can be made by calling 315-386-2325. Other health departments in the North Country are also holding vaccine clinics.

CHAPMAN: Is there a specific cutoff date for when the kids need to have everything up-to-date before they can go back to school?

ZIMMERMAN: Children need to have proof of vaccination within 14 days of the start of school. So children can actually be excluded from school if they don’t have the vaccinations that they need.

CHAPMAN: Is there anything else that we didn’t talk about that you feel is important for people to know?

ZIMMERMAN: Simply the importance of the vaccines themselves, and the difference between the child actually having the illness and potentially having lasting impacts. I don’t think we always think about the long-term impacts of the condition. I think we tend to think more about the acute illness itself. And I think as we go forward, especially with COVID, and we learn more about what those lasting impacts are for people that have experienced COVID, I think we’re going to find that with a lot of other conditions as well.

CHAPMAN: Do you have any kids or littles in your life that you think about when it comes to back-to-school shots?

ZIMMERMAN: I do have a little of my own. They’re actually going to be starting some preschool soon, so a little bit more formal instruction. Being a parent with a little who was born not that long before the start of the pandemic, concerns about infectious diseases have always been on my mind with her. For my own child and other littles in my life, I try to do my best to ensure that they aren’t going to get sick by having them wash their hands, making sure that they’re getting their vaccines on time and keeping them home if they’re sick.

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