The new school year is beginning as high schoolers and college students start the semester. With diseases like monkeypox and COVID-19 spreading rapidly across the country, practicing precaution is necessary, especially during a time when vaccine rates are lower compared to recent years.

California’s state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan told KCRA 3 that parents should plan ahead, as COVID-19 cases rise and monkeypox has been declared a public health emergency by the White House.

“We’ve seen a lot of kids get behind on their other vaccines or routine vaccinations,” she said. “So we really want to make sure kids get back up to date on those. There’s a lot more circulating vaccine-preventable diseases around the world now, and we really want to protect our kids and our families and communities.”

Staying up to speed on vaccinations

UNICEF data suggests that the global vaccination rate declined in 2021, with 25 million children missing out on lifesaving vaccines, compared to 2 million in 2020 and 6 million in 2019.

Monkeypox in children: What parents should know

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found that vaccination coverage for kindergarteners was one percentage point lower than in other years. Outbreaks for diseases like measles have increased by 79% worldwide in the first two months of 2022. This year, New York also confirmed the first case of polio in almost a decade.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that more than four in 10 parents of children under 5 say they will not vaccinate their child against COVID-19.

Perspective: Why have so few children been vaccinated for COVID-19?

College and university students, on the other hand, require “a very specific kind of messaging and those messages need to be prepared now so they can be reaching those students before they return to school,” said Rebecca Fischer, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Texas A&M University, per The Texas Tribune.

“When school comes back, we need to be ready to roll out messaging if something happens on campus.”

Understanding the disease

There is enough evidence that shows that omicron infections aren’t as severe as infections from previous COVID-19 strains, although the virus can now evade antibodies acquired through previous infection or vaccination.

But vaccines still help reduce the degree of infection, while masking and social distancing can also help, as per the CDC guidelines.

Monkeypox isn’t as easy to contract, and is more difficult to contract in a classroom setting. As the Deseret News reported, this disease typically spreads by touching infected animals, humans or contaminated material through sores and broken skin, the respiratory tract or the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose and mouth.

It isn’t deadly but can cause painful, pus-filled blisters and lesions on the skin as well as swollen lymph nodes and can last up to a month. The majority of outbreaks are among men who have sex with men. Vaccines are taken post-exposure for this disease.

What to know about the monkeypox vaccine

“One of the most important things is this communication plan and I think that this is something we’re failing at currently in the United States,” Fischer said. “People are becoming afraid because they don’t understand monkeypox. … What they’re hearing is we have cases in our community. What they are not hearing is ‘what is my personal risk?’”

Safety tips you can practice

Families and caregivers should be prepared for the new school year by using strategies that prioritize the health and safety of high school and college students.

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Here are seven tips to stay safe while attending school:

  • Keep up with your vaccines.
  • Wear a mask if you’re living in a community with a high level of transmission rate for COVID-19.
  • Social distancing, which can also prevent other people from getting infected.
  • Screening testing to help identify unknown cases, further helping prevent spread.
  • Handwashing for at least 20 seconds.
  • Additionally, disinfecting and cleaning surfaces to get rid of germs.
  • Most importantly, staying at home when sick and getting tested.

Teens face unique risks with communicable diseases

Staying up to date with younger children is easier than with adolescents, said Dr. Dimitrios Hondros, president of the N.C. Academy of Family Physicians.

“As children move into their preteen and teen years, they become more susceptible to certain diseases, making it especially important to stay current with immunizations. At the same time, preteens and teens tend to have fewer visits to their doctor’s office, increasing the chance that they are not up to date,” explained Hondros. “This decrease in immunizations accelerated among adolescents during the pandemic, when stay-at-home orders went into effect.”

These 5 symptoms are the most common in omicron

In order to promote vaccines for preventable diseases like chicken pox, meningitis, measles and whooping cough, the CDC recognizes the month of August as National Immunization Awareness Month.

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