In less than a month, students throughout the state will grab their backpacks, hop on the bus and begin a new school year. The annual countdown to the classroom comes with its own set of rituals for Minnesota families, from picking up school supplies to brushing up on material from the previous year.
In the midst this preparation, don’t forget one of the most important items on your child’s to-do list: an early childhood screening or well-child visit to your pediatrician or family doctor.
Making sure your child is screened before school starts and is current on their immunizations is as essential for a student’s success as a healthy breakfast each morning.
Each year, 40-percent of students in the U.S. aged 5-11 miss three or more days of school due to illness or injury. For students in kindergarten through 12th grade, nearly 22 million school days are lost because of the common cold and 38 million school days are missed due to influenza according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While we may never be able to fully prevent our children from getting sick, immunizations play a key role in fighting serious illness. In fact, immunization rates higher than 90 percent can result in disease rates of less than 1 percent. This means our children can stay healthy, reducing the number of missed school days and maximizing their time in the classroom.
Achieving these high immunization rates is especially crucial for children who cannot be immunized due to age or health concerns. If every child around them has received their immunizations, these students have a lower chance of being exposed to a serious illness.
Minnesota law requires vaccinations or documented exemptions prior to kindergarten and seventh grade. Last year, an incredible 98.4 percent of Minnesota children entering kindergarten were fully immunized. With overall immunization rates in Minnesota remaining stagnant for the last five years, it is important we ensure our students’ vaccinations remain current. Immunized children protect grandparents, babies, and other family members from being exposed to illnesses that could be life-threatening for them.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates for every new generation that remains current on immunizations, 33,000 lives are saved, 14 million cases of disease are prevented, direct health care costs are reduced by $9.9 billion; and an additional $33.4 billion are saved in indirect costs.
Early childhood screenings, ideally between the ages of three and four, are just as important. They assess how a child is growing and developing and can also detect possible health or learning concerns. These insights are important for success in the classroom, providing educators with information necessary to ensure each student’s needs are being met. Like immunizations, early education screenings are required for students before entering kindergarten.
Healthy students are better learners. This year, make sure your children are immunized and your early learners are screened prior to the start of kindergarten. It’s an important part of getting the school year off to a great start for every student.
Brenda Cassellius, Ed.D., is the commissioner, Minnesota Department of Education; Ed Ehlinger, M.D., is the commissioner, Minnesota Department of Health; Joe Neglia, M.D., is the physician-in-chief, University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital; and Kathie Taranto, is the president at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital.