patient engagement

Back to School: COVID-19 Boosters and More

Kids returning to in-person schooling in 2022 is cause for celebration: the American Academy of Pediatrics has supported in-person schooling as supportive of children’s health, well-being, and conducive to social and emotional learning. In this post, we cover some familiar and some brand-new events pediatricians can expect from the new school year, from routine physicals to mental health support, COVID-19 boosters, and more.

COVID-19 Boosters

Pediatric vaccines for COVID-19 remain as important as ever to protect children and communities as they return to indoor activities and classroom learning. At the time of this post’s writing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The Food and Drug Administration have both approved emergency use authorization for vaccine boosters intended for adolescents and adults.

The AAP notes an important distinction between vaccines now available for children, which can be either monovalent or bivalent. “Monovalent boosters no longer are authorized for use in age groups for which a bivalent booster is available. However, monovalent vaccines still are authorized for use as a primary series in people 6 months and older. The monovalent Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine also can continue to be used as a single booster for children ages 5-11 years at least five months after a Pfizer-BioNTech primary series.”

The CDC recommends and even encourages that physicians provide COVID-19 vaccine boosters at the same time as other vaccines, including the flu vaccine. This is an important logistical consideration for practice looking to open flu or COVID-19 booster clinics this fall.

For more information on the COVID-19 vaccine and resources for pediatricians, be sure to visit PCC’s COVID-19 Resources page.

Preparing Kids for In-Person Learning

Some kids will find returning to in-person schooling difficult, especially those with disabilities or behavioral health concerns. Pediatricians can help support families returning to school by guiding them through some common obstacles, whether they’re transitioning from online schooling, going to in-person kindergarten for the first time, or are simply moving up a grade to bigger and brighter learning. 

Separation Anxiety

Both children and parents may experience anxiety about being apart for an extended period, such as for school or even after-school activities that take the child away from familiar surroundings. This anxiety response is natural and normal, and caregivers can help kids through intimidating new experiences by modeling behavior and giving plenty of reassurance.

The AAP’s recommends the following tips for addressing separation anxiety:

  • Consistency
  • Brisk transitions
  • Keeping promises
  • Practice at being apart
  • Create quick good-bye rituals, like hugs, high-fives, or kisses

For parents who need support and reassurance, pediatricians are in a pivotal position. Physicians might point out the developmental importance of independence for kids and the positives it offers families, like peace of mind, time for personal projects and health, and of course kids’ happiness and growth.

Other Mental and Behavioral Health Support

Besides separation anxiety, school-age children from pre-school to senior year may need additional emotional or behavioral support as they return to school. The return to a regular schedule that includes physical activity, sleep, good nutrition, and social activities can be helpful for kids’ emotional health in the long run, but whether a patient needs transitional or long-term support, pediatricians can provide answers.

Pediatric practices should include depression screenings, behavioral medication follow ups (such as for ADHD), maternal depression screenings, and behavioral health maintenance in their back-to-school preparations. These are all excellent opportunities to improve your patient recall program!

Pediatricians can also counsel caregivers on supporting kids’ health all year long with resources like counseling and medication. Integrating behavioral health in your practice could include hiring a pediatric counselor, coordinating with local specialists, or referring patients to trusted professionals.

According to the AAP, it is more important than ever for pediatricians to partner with caregivers, resource groups, and communities to support children’s mental health, and providing support via avenues such as telehealth is a way to get started. The AAP also notes that “appropriate allocation of resources is necessary to address the pandemic’s impacts, particularly for under-resourced communities, populations facing inequities, children and youths with special health care needs and children in child welfare and juvenile justice systems.”

Sports Physicals and Beyond

The fall season is familiar to many experienced pediatricians, who know to prepare for flu season, back-to-school colds and coughs, and plenty of sports physicals. This return to school period is often very busy for pediatric practices, and the 2022 school year is no exception. In fact, the addition of COVID-19 boosters for adolescents (and perhaps soon, children) makes 2022 busier than ever.

Pragmatic practice management is necessary for a successful return to school season – which means planning ahead and sometimes getting creative to get patients everything that they need. Some of the ways PCC clients proactively prepare for this busy period include:

  • Preparing for drive-thru or in-person flu clinics, which can also include other vaccines and even well visits
  • Mastering their patient recall program to get kids up to date on vaccines, medications, and important screenings
  • Utilizing the Critical Sports Physical to provide vaccines and other important care for adolescents, including important discussions on drugs, mental health, and sexual activity

Also important for this school year will be keeping up to date on billing information for new COVID-19 boosters. Billers and practice managers will need to work with payers on the codes they are willing to accept for these new doses. PCC clients can keep tabs on the latest COVID-19 information relevant to PCC EHR right here.

Remember: the back-to-school season brings many wonderful opportunities to make sure kids are up to date on their well visits and vaccines, and to ensure a healthful and happy return to school. Pediatricians can use these opportunities to continue to support and reestablish the healthcare children may have missed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Want to know how a masterful practice recall program can save your practice money, fill schedules, and improve care for kids? Sharpen your pencils, because you can complete a customized practice recall worksheet to suit your practice’s individual recall needs. Click here to choose the worksheet that best fits your current goals.

Choose Your Custom Recall Worksheet!

Allie Squires

Allie Squires is PCC's Marketing Content Writer and editor of The Independent Pediatrician. She holds a master's in Professional Writing from NYU.