With Omicron in our communities, and all of New Zealand under red traffic light settings, schools are preparing to
welcome back our tamariki with extra health and safety measures in place. These include vaccination, mask wearing from
Year 4 upwards, physical distancing, and capacity limits for some school events.
However, even with these restrictions in place, it can be a time of stress and uncertainty for families whose children
have respiratory conditions. The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation New Zealand (ARFNZ) says the back-to-school period is
always a vulnerable time for the one in seven Kiwi children living with asthma.
"The return-to-school period increases the risk of respiratory hospitalisation for children," says ARFNZ Chief Executive
Letitia Harding. "The ‘back-to-school effect’ is greater than the ‘winter effect’ when it comes to children’s
respiratory disease. This is an important issue to address, and even more so with Omicron now in our communities."
ARFNZ's recent report, The Impact of Respiratory Disease in New Zealand: 2020 Update, found that in weeks 3 and 4 of
term 1 in 2020, hospitalisations for respiratory disease increased, peaking in week 3 at three times the risk of the
first day of term.
International studies have shown that a variety of factors are associated with the increase, including a change of
environment and exposure to different allergens, changes in emotions such as stress or anxiety, and exposure to more
viruses from being around more people.
"Investing funding into educating children about asthma is a huge focus for us," says Letitia. "Our Sailor the
Pufferfish live musical shows, in te reo Māori and English, are more vital than ever to teach children and teachers
about asthma, and what to do in an asthma emergency."
Recently, ARFNZ launched the Sailor Digital Classroom, an interactive digital course which ensures that all primary
school children in New Zealand can get asthma-educated, no matter where they are and no matter what COVID-19
restrictions are in place. The Foundation is also hoping to secure funding for a te reo Māori digital version for Kura
To keep their children safe through the return-to-school period, parents and caregivers of children with asthma should
ensure that their child has an Asthma Action Plan, which is shared with their school and their teacher.
"Make sure your child is taking their preventer medication as prescribed and bringing their reliever inhaler to school,
and check that it’s not empty or out of date," says ARFNZ Research and Education Manager Joanna Turner. "You should also
let your child know what their asthma triggers are, so they can do their best to avoid them. Getting the COVID and flu
vaccines and practising good hand hygiene are also important to prevent the spread of germs."
"We know this is a worrying time for some families," says ARFNZ Medical Director Dr James Fingleton. "The good news is
that many of the measures being put into place to protect against the Omicron variant will also help protect against
other respiratory infections. Making sure that children with asthma take their preventer medication regularly and have
an up- to- date asthma plan will also help to minimise the risk."
A free, printable back-to-school checklist is also available to download from the Foundation’s website, visit: asthmafoundation.org.nz/resources/school-asthma-checklist
If your school is interested in hosting a Sailor the Pufferfish show, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org