If you have children, or if you care for children, please make sure they have had their vaccinations this year before beginning school.


Because yes, while public health officials are concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the effects of that virus on our society are still unfolding, there are many more diseases that threaten children and, by extension, the rest of us. If children don’t get their shots, we could see new outbreaks of old diseases like mumps or measles.


Why the concern? The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Rafael Garcia laid it out in a story last week. "One measure that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment uses to track yearly vaccination rates is the number of orders it places through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccines for Children program. … From January to the end of July this year, Kansas’s orders of federal vaccines fell 21% to 199,000, compared to 252,000 in the same time period in 2019, according to KDHE data."


Yes, these numbers reflect vaccines given through the public health system to those who are uninsured or underinsured. But they track what experts have seen since the pandemic began: People who are generally healthy are avoiding preventative care. Unfortunately, this can leave folks without the protection of vaccines or the trained eyes of doctors and nurses.


This is incredibly counterproductive.


"Continuing your child’s vaccine schedule is necessary, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, to protect individuals and communities from vaccine-preventable diseases and outbreaks," KDHE communications director said. "Routine vaccination prevents illnesses that lead to unnecessary medical visits, hospitalizations and strain the health care system."


We haven’t even touched on flu shots yet. Many people, not just parents or those who take care of children, have seen the yearly jabs as somehow optional. But right now, having widespread use of flu vaccines will be absolutely critical.


Having two largely respiratory viruses circulating during the winter — COVID-19 and influenza — is a recipe for overwhelmed health care providers. Because the two illnesses share many symptoms, simply telling them apart will be an enormous challenge, and keeping the public healthy and our economy mending will require responsibility on everyone’s part.


At this point, you know the drill. Wear a mask when around others or in shared public spaces. Keep at least six feet apart. Wash your hands. Stay home when you can. And make sure both your children and yourself are up to date on all vaccines.