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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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House Call: Back to school, back to sports and back to the doctor

Aug. 11, 2021 Updated Tue., Dec. 7, 2021 at 7:48 a.m.

By Dr. Jeff Markin For The Spokesman-Review

It’s difficult to believe on an August day, but back to school, and for many back to organized sports, is right around the corner. Not to short circuit your summer, but the first day of school is only about three weeks away.

It’s time to get prepared with wellness exams and sports-readiness checks to help make sure your child is in tip-top shape to learn, enjoy sports and get back to pre-pandemic activities. Many schools initiate fall sports practices several weeks before school commences, so delay can result in not being able to participate until those sports exams are completed.

Get in for a wellness visit

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many patients haven’t seen us in more than 18 months, and that has meant children and teens are falling behind on routine vaccinations, sports checkups and wellness exams. In our own clinic, access has been a challenge due to the surge in volume from people who have delayed routine health care, so getting scheduled early is especially important.

I always welcome and enjoy seeing young adults for their sports checkups and well exams since it’s also an opportunity to review their vaccine records, perform depression screening and make sure that needed vaccines like tetanus, meningococcus, HPV and COVID-19, if eligible, are completed.

Additionally, it’s a great opportunity to connect with young adults about what’s going on in their lives – stresses, school anxieties, recent moves into or out of a familiar neighborhood, etc.

It depends on the age of your child, but for school-aged children, generally your family physician or pediatrician will check for weight and height, assess growth and developmental milestones and may do blood pressure, vision and hearing screenings, as well as field questions around physical activity.

Providers can identify specific issues like anemia and address concerns like lead testing. If your child is returning to sports or other activities, a preparticipation physical examination can make sure they are in good shape and address any injuries or other concerns.

Many people have experienced depression, loss or other mental health challenges during the pandemic. If your child’s mood is worrying you, talk to your provider about care or treatment.

Early autumn is the preferred time to get updated influenza vaccination, and parents bringing in their kids for well checks can also get needed vaccines updated, cancer screenings scheduled and their own well exams set up.

Why do routine immunizations matter?

Nationwide, many children, and adults, too, are behind on vaccines, and that lag could pose a serious health threat with outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses like measles and whooping cough, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s an interesting success story, but when I was in first grade, we all got marched one by one down to the school nurse’s office to receive our smallpox vaccine. Now more than 50 years later, that disease has essentially been eradicated. Maybe one day we will be saying the same thing about COVID-19.

Routine vaccinations for children and teens were substantially lower between March and May 2020. Vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough dropped more than 60% among elementary and preschool-age children.

Though rates did increase last summer and fall, it was not enough to catch up. Even a small decline in vaccination can compromise so-called herd immunity and cause an outbreak, which can cause disruption for everyone.

Although the flu season was mild last year when we were distanced, it will likely bounce back. Kids are curious and touch everything, and the flu virus can live on surfaces for as long as two days, so those handwashing skills will come in good use, too. But a simple flu shot offers good protection from getting and passing on influenza.

You can get a flu shot at the pharmacy, and often a COVID-19 vaccine, but you’ll need to see your health care provider for most routine vaccinations.

The CDC had recommended that providers can give coronavirus vaccines on the same day as other immunizations, so you can get it all done in one visit. Ask your provider any questions you have about the coronavirus vaccine. We need COVID-19 vaccination rates to be higher than they are currently in Spokane to provide communitywide protection.

Back with some new skills

We’ve learned a lot about keeping our immune systems healthy over the past 18 months, and we’re more protected than we were, with steadily increasing vaccination rates. Many patients have expressed anxiety about the new delta variant of COVID-19 that is spreading throughout the country.

The good news is COVID-19 vaccines in our community, including Moderna, Pfizer and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, all have provided excellent protection against this strain. Spokane can double down on the everyday precautions to help keep all of us healthy and safe, and we continue to encourage all eligible (anyone ages 12 and older) to get the COVID-19 vaccination.

Remind your kids (and yourself) about everyday precautions like handwashing and sneezing into your elbow. There are still infections happening with the new, more-infectious delta variant, so we need to remain vigilant.

You likely know the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 now and what to do if you or child might be sick, including keeping your child home and calling your health care provider.

Washington state is requiring masks for all staff and K-12 students in school this fall, vaccinated or not. This recommendation follows the guidelines from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatricians for universal masking in schools. Wearing masks, along with handwashing and physical distancing, are proven to be effective protections.

Listen to your child’s concerns and talk with them about their experience and comfort level in returning to school, including topics from sports participation to social interactions, re-establishing with peers, etc. Enjoy the remainder of you summer break with safety and good health, and we’ll look forward to seeing you soon.

Dr. Jeff Markin is a family medicine physician practicing at Kaiser Permanente’s Veradale Medical Center.

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