This post was originally published on St. Louis American

By Denise Hooks-Anderson

It’s that time of year again where our families participate in the tradition of back-to-school shopping.

If your kids are like mine, they are requesting the latest tennis shoes. Girls want a trendy hairstyle, and boys want a fresh haircut. New backpacks, pencils, and folders are also items typically found in shopping carts around this time.  However, this year our carts should also contain hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and masks!

Most kids dread the end of summer, but the excitement of being around their friends and the return of in-person events like fall dances and football games have changed the tenor of their chatter. The desire to return to some sort of normalcy is strong.  So, with that in mind, let’s plan out a “wellness strategy” for our children during this pandemic.

By now, kids and teens should have received an annual physical. If not, please schedule that immediately. Most kids cannot play a sport without a sports physical on file. These physicals review family history and measure the child’s/teen’s BMI, blood pressure, and weight. This is also a great time for the provider to screen teens for depression and alcohol, nicotine, or drug use. 

Maintaining an up-to-date immunization record is also important.  For tweens and teenagers, Tdap, MCV (meningitis vaccine), and Gardasil (HPV vaccine) are the typical vaccines that are needed.

Starting in September, the influenza vaccine should be added to that list. Children 12 and older are eligible for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and are encouraged to receive it for maximum protection.

Keep in mind that full protection against the virus is two weeks after the second dose. Though the vaccine does not prevent the 12 and older population from getting COVID, it is our best protection between being moderately ill and dying from the infection.

The rise of the delta variant of COVID is an important reminder that the pandemic is not over. If we want our children to continue to learn in the classroom, we must sustain our vigilance about infection precautions.

It is imperative that we remind our children and teens about the proper way to wear their surgical or cloth masks. The mask should be worn over their mouth and should cover their noses. Please provide them with plenty of hand sanitizer for their backpacks.

The most important reminder: IF YOUR CHILD/TEEN IS EXHIBITING SYMPTOMS SUCH AS A FEVER, CHILLS, COUGHING, DIARRHEA,  OR VOMITING, PLEASE DO NOT SEND THEM TO SCHOOL. Sending a sick child to school puts everyone else at risk. 

On another note, many of our children missed their typical birthday gatherings. However, please reconsider large gatherings that are indoors. You do not want to be known as the super-spreader parents! 

Lastly, children under 12 need our help. At this time, this group cannot get the vaccine, therefore their only protection must come from the adults in their lives. If you have not gotten the vaccine, consider doing so for your kids or grandkids. Your decision could save their lives.

Dr. Denise Hooks-Anderson/Photo by Curt Dennison

So, as you prepare to send your kids to school, please prepare them appropriately. This year they need more than paper and pencils. 

Denise Hooks-Anderson, M.D., FAAFP is interim assistant dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and an associate professor with SLUCare Family Medicine.