COVID-19 is the super virus that world health officials warned us would someday come, and just over a year later, it was everywhere, including Idaho.

During the pandemic, over 192,000 Idahoans tested positive for COVID-19 and 2,097 have lost their lives. There is not a single person that COVID-19 did not impact. We’ve learned that our best hope in this fight is to follow the science, and with the proven results of the vaccines we have a means to end this pandemic. Vaccine distribution has greatly improved, and many Idahoans have received their COVID-19 vaccination, but we are not out of the woods yet.

That’s why Idaho State University School of Pharmacy students were recently engaged to help in administering the vaccine statewide in places like Meridian, Idaho Falls, Boise and Nampa. I’m proud of these bright young medical minds who have selflessly joined forces with other health-care heroes who have stepped up during challenging times. Their actions have saved lives.

But as much as COVID-19 has dominated the news and the world around us, its impact has also become a double-edged sword pushing us toward another disturbing trend brought upon by a human emotion that if not addressed immediately may have equally devastating health consequences.

I’m talking about the creation of fear. The fear that is keeping us from venturing out too far and specifically to doctors’ offices. Sadly, many parents with school-age children are not getting the health care they need because they are delaying critical appointments. In fact, according to the CDC’s Vaccines for Children report, basic vaccinations for school-age children in Idaho and nationwide dropped 40% last spring after Idahoans learned of the spread of COVID-19.

That means many K-12 students have likely not been getting the vaccinations they need to help protect them from deadly diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, chickenpox, influenza and more. Additionally, a recent Boise State University/Idaho Immunization Coalition survey showed that public universities and colleges now required by state law to educate students living on campus about the importance of getting immunized for vaccine-preventable illnesses like meningococcal disease are not all doing so and blame the disruption of COVID-19. While it’s true that families and students are facing a lot these days, many of these young adults have already headed back to in-person classes. No one, including Idaho’s public institutions of higher learning, should get a pass on providing basic information on vaccinations to students. If we have learned anything from COVID-19, it is that protecting public health should be a priority.

President Franklin Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Applied to this case, we simply cannot let our guard down in the fight to prevent all diseases because of the fear created over just one. We need to protect the health of all ages, especially our young people, who need immunizations to ensure that deadly diseases of the past are kept there and not allowed to re-emerge and harm others.

Years from now, historians will write about the great virus of 2020 and how it gripped the world in sickness, but they will also acknowledge that vaccines restored normalcy and health to a fearful population. As we push to get everyone vaccinated against COVID-19, we must also make sure our K-12 and college-bound children’s immunizations are up-to-date. As they return to the classroom this next fall, we need to make sure they are protected from all diseases, not just one. For generations, science has proven vaccines are our best defense against disease, and we need to replace fear with confidence by trusting in the facts.

Please, don’t let your guard down on COVID-19, and follow all vaccine recommendations and requirements. Make plans to get vaccinated now, so everyone will be protected.

Kevin W. Cleveland, Ph.D., is an associate professor and assistant dean at Idaho State University in the pharmacy practice department at the College of Pharmacy in Meridian. He is currently the director of the Office of Experiential Education and coordinates the immunization training for ISU pharmacy.

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