Story by Barry Wise Smith and Photos by Brit Huckabay

Courtesy of Alabaster Pediatric

Drs. Patti Schroder, Dianne Matheson, and Paula Johnson founded Alabaster Pediatrics in 2005 with the goal of providing excellent personal care for patients through a smaller private practice setting. Alabaster Pediatrics serves children from infancy through adolescence. Dr. Patti Schroder, originally from Tucson, Arizona, came to UAB to play volleyball, where she completed her undergraduate and medical degrees. She finished her pediatric internship and residency at UAB and Children’s Hospital of Alabama, where she served as Co-Chief Resident of the UAB Pediatric program and helped establish an academic outpatient pediatric primary care clinic before leaving for private practice in Alabaster in 1996.

Are you recommending that your patients 12 and older receive a COVID 19 vaccine?

Dr. Schroder: Absolutely, yes. Vaccination is currently the best public health prevention strategy in the goal to end the pandemic. The vaccines have been proven safe as well as effective. Higher vaccination rates will enable schools to return more safely to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports. There is very low side-effect risk for this age group.

Do you think children under the age of 12 will be eligible for the vaccine this school year?

 It is expected to be fully FDA approved for five to 12-year-olds by early to mid-winter of this school year but only if the research and data reviews show that it continues to meet safety and efficacy standards.

How is your practice addressing the increased mental health needs of students, particularly as they face the beginning of the new school year?

 We encourage regular annual Well Child Checkups in which we screen patients for health conditions that will need further evaluation and care. Mental health is part of that. Seeing patients at least yearly makes it easier to tell when something is not going well. When patients do not have that foundation and rapport with their provider, it is often a barrier to reaching out for help and getting to the heart of the problem. We also counsel the essentials to achieving health, which include balanced nutrition, adequate sleep for age, appropriate exercise, age-appropriate chores and screen time limits.

How can parents help?

We need parents to be informed and aware that these mental health conditions are as important as other health conditions like allergies and asthma and to be willing to address these concerns with their child’s primary care pediatrician. Parents need to spend time and engage with their children to be able to pick up on the early warning signs of mental health and mood issues such as headache, stomachache, sleeping problems, irritability, and excessive or sudden weight gain. We encourage parents to schedule appointments with their doctor promptly when these symptoms are noticed. Do not wait.

Do you recommend students get the flu shot this year?

Yes, we recommend ALL children above the age of six months get the flu vaccine yearly. It is a significant cause of preventable death and hospitalizations in children and adults every year. This spring and summer alone we have seen an unexpected surge in respiratory illnesses, including parainfluenza and RSV, which historically are “winter viruses.” The stage is set to possibly have a worse or earlier flu season before this calendar year is over, but honestly now it is difficult to predict. It is important to prevent what we can, and especially since flu symptoms are very similar to those of COVID 19. The flu vaccine has been proven safe for many years and based on research studies, the immunity provided by the flu vaccine is known to last up to nine to 12 months. The goal is to have everyone vaccinated by October at the latest.

Another side effect of COVID-19, which is not necessarily health related, is the effect on educational health—what do you think the long-term effects of virtual learning/learning loss will be?

Long-term effects on education are not known at this time, and we hope that the negative effects will be temporary. This past school year showed the value of having live structured classroom teaching with trained instructors interacting with students. Many challenges to the virtual learning included lack of structure and supervision to the learning day, excessive eating habits, and unhealthy sleep schedules.

What are your top back-to-school tips for parents of school-aged kids?

Get the family on a “school” sleep schedule starting one to two weeks ahead of the day school starts. Sleep is valuable, and children under age 16 need OVER eight hours of sleep per night. Set reasonable expectations on extracurricular activities and schedules especially for younger children. Set screen-time limits and no media during meals or homework. Pre-plan meals and snacks as much as possible in order to maintain balance and optimal nutrition. Get your child scheduled for their yearly Well Child Check-up for general health screening, growth, and developmental assessment and preventive care, including vaccinations.

Dr. Patti Schroder