The COVID-19 pandemic placed immense stress and risk on our communities, schools, families, and youth in unexpected ways. The pandemic has further highlighted the significant inequities within our communities, particularly access to quality healthcare for our most vulnerable populations. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) explicitly report the significant drop in routine childhood immunizations and the gap in immunization rates for those with limited access to private insurance or public insurance.
COVID-19 disrupted in-person learning and routine well-child visits for many children over the last year. As a result, too many children have fallen behind on receiving recommended immunizations. We all want our kids to be back in school safely, which means catching them up on missed immunizations.
School-based health centers (SBHCs) serve some of the most vulnerable individuals nationwide, reducing barriers such as cost and lack of insurance. By administering immunizations and ensuring youth have an annual well-child visit, either directly or through the coordination of school located vaccination clinics (SLV), school-based health care can further increase access to care, particularly for those youth from families that would traditionally not have any other option for healthcare. Too many children experience persistent disparities in healthcare access, quality, and outcomes. Hence, as a community, we need to support our most needy families to protect them as they go back to in-person learning and begin to feel a sense of normalcy. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest every child continues to receive recommended immunizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Catch-up immunizations will require efforts from healthcare systems, healthcare providers, schools, state and local governments, and families.
The target audiences for this toolkit are district/school administrators, superintendents, school-based healthcare staff, and community–based healthcare organizations, including staff from state and local public health departments, community health centers, pharmacies, pediatric practices, and health systems.
- School-based healthcare programs represent a partnership between schools and community health organizations. Their objective is to give students meaningful access to care in a safe and convenient location. Whether onsite, mobile, or through telehealth, various healthcare professionals collaborate with schools to address the broad range of concerns and adverse experiences that affect students’ healthy development. These services include acute/chronic healthcare management, primary care, vision/dental, mental/behavioral health, and preventive care. Some programs serve only students, while others serve family members and the school’s broader community. Programs offer a range of services, with the most common being primary medical services. School-based health programs respond to local needs, receive support from many communities, and are as individual as the clients they serve. No matter the configuration, the team brings its expertise, resources, and authority to improve students’ physical, social, emotional, and behavioral health. School-based healthcare is a powerful tool for achieving health equity among children and adolescents who unjustly experience disparities in outcomes simply because of their race, ethnicity, or family income. Visit School-Based Health Centers and School Nurses to learn more about school-based health programs.
- Immunizations are physical interventions used to stimulate the body’s immune response against diseases. The administration of immunizations usually occurs via a needle injection and sometimes by mouth or nasal pathways.
- A well-child visit is a routine medical visit for comprehensive preventive healthcare services. It typically occurs annually from infancy to age 21. Services include a risk assessment, physical exam, measurements, vision and hearing screening, an oral health risk assessment, health guidance or counseling, and ensuring that all required and recommended immunizations are up to date.
The National School-Based Health Alliance developed this toolkit in collaboration with our valued partners: The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) and The School Superintendents Associations (AASA). We sincerely thank both NASN and AASA for their continued partnerships, providing valuable information for the toolkit, and for supporting our schools and school-based health programs across the country. We collectively want to thank all school-based health program providers and staff for their hard work and dedication to ensure our youth and families have access to quality healthcare. We also gratefully acknowledge the Merck Company Foundation for providing the financial support for this project.