Guest column: Vaccinations help youth return to school safely

As many Illinois students return to in-person instruction this fall, families are closely monitoring school district responses and local public health guidance as they navigate a safe return to the classroom. Layered prevention strategies such as hand washing, consistent mask wearing, physical distancing and COVID-19 vaccines for teachers, staff and eligible students are supporting a safer return to in-person learning.

When it comes to vaccinations, some are understandably hesitant about making the decision for their child. As families consider whether COVID-19 vaccinations are right for them, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) offers three tips to empower parents to make the most informed decision for their children:

· Consult your healthcare provider. Your family doctor is the most equipped to advise you, with your child’s unique medical history in mind.

· Learn about the recommendation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these vaccines have undergone and will continue to undergo intensive safety monitoring. This includes both established and new safety monitoring systems to make sure that COVID-19 vaccines are as safe as they can be. Growing evidence suggests vaccines lead to fewer illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths, and the CDC continues to advise getting vaccinated as a critical means of preventing the spread of COVID-19 for everyone 12 years and older (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/adolescents.html).

· Consider the benefits. Vaccination can help eligible students more safely return to in-person learning, extracurricular activities and youth sports, and to keep themselves and those around them as safe as possible.

After reviewing months of safety and efficacy data, the FDA has now fully approved and authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for individuals 16 years and older, and the vaccine remains available for youth ages 12 to 15 under an emergency-use authorization.

Understanding that everyone’s health history is different, vaccination has the potential to give all of us, including our youth, the best chance at staying healthy.

We can work together to ensure we are making every effort to return to school safely, and to protect our children, their peers and their futures.

* Dr. Derek Robinson is vice president and chief medical officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois.