Prepare for a very different back-to-school season

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COVID-19 adds new health needs for students, families, teachers

In brief:

  • Back-to-school preparations will be very different amid COVID-19
  • Help families with obvious needs related to COVID-19, like masks, wipes, hand sanitizer
  • But don’t forget less obvious but very important back-to-school needs, like immunizations

In 2020, nothing is normal

Most years at back-to-school time, families are focused on getting new clothes, school supplies and other basics. But this year is like no other. As districts are deciding if school will take place in person, remotely or through some hybrid, families, students and teachers are all scrambling to prepare.

Regardless of how school will take place in your community, you and your pharmacy can help families be ready for whatever unfolds.

Start with the COVID-19 essentials

While some communities have low rates of COVID-19 and some individuals are not terribly concerned, personal safety is top of mind for many families. For these families, your pharmacy can be a resource for the most basic COVID essentials that most students will need to return to school. These include:

  • Masks. Masks will be like clothes and students will want/need multiple masks, so they have alternatives when their mask is dirty, lost or becomes boring. You can stock multiple sizes and designs, possibly including with local school mascots.
    Shoppers may want masks that keep elastic bands from rubbing against ears. Also, be ready to recommend a moisturizer to minimize irritation from wearing masks.
  • Other face coverings. Can you get face shields that can be worn by teachers, cafeteria workers and other school personnel?
  • Hand sanitizer and wipes. This includes carry sizes for backpacks and larger sizes to have at home and in classrooms.
  • Other COVID-19 care. This can include non-contact thermometers, protective gloves, other types of personal protective equipment (PPE) and even COVID-19 tests.
    Also, since some schools are making water fountains off limits and are changing the cafeteria experience, more students will need to tote water bottles and more will be taking their lunch to school, increasing the need for lunch boxes and supplies.

Since these items will be in demand, consider stocking multiple items and make sure to let your community know what you have available.

Remember school immunizations

While COVID-19 is getting the attention, — a website by pediatricians — warns: “It is important as students return to school that they are up to date on their immunizations. It will be critical that students and staff get their flu shot this year to reduce the spread of influenza this fall and winter.”1

Reminding families about immunizations is extremely important, as vaccinations for children have plummeted since the pandemic began. Among children:

  • Vaccinations in New York City decreased by 91% compared to a year ago.
  • Immunizations in California are down 40%.2

You can ask patients about the status of their children’s shots — and may be able to provide some of these vaccinations (see “Students need immunizations. You can provide them.”). Also, you can begin planning now for what could be a very busy flu season. An example is Call’s Community Pharmacy in Snowflake, Arizona. In anticipation of high demand, Call’s is taking pre-orders from customers for flu shots.

Don’t forget other back-to-school needs

In addition to COVID-19 essentials and immunization reminders, students and families still have other regular back-to-school health needs. Some may be typical and other needs may need to be handled differently at this unique time. Pay attention to:

  • Medication. Make sure families remember to get the proper medications for students, which can include asthma and allergy medications, such as rescue inhalers and EpiPens. Also, some students will need ADHD medications and others will require getting acne prescriptions filled. Make sure families have adequate supplies at home and at school in what could be an irregular schedule. Also, consider packaging that will be easiest and most appropriate for the student and school nurse. (See “Send yourself to the school nurse’s office.”)
  • Head lice. Some years, lice is the leading story. This year, it is not the top item, but shouldn’t be forgotten. Stock and offer a variety of both traditional and alternative remedies.
  • Other health needs. Some families will need oral care products to get their children back in good habits of brushing and flossing. Stock and market all of these items to parents as they prepare for the school year.

Amid all of these needs, families still need vitamins, bandages, cough and cold medicine, nail clippers, shampoo and an assortment of school supplies.


An idea to help the schools

Make it easy for families to support educators. For example, create a special offer on individual and classroom-size bottles of hand sanitizer, or sell large bottles of moisturizer to keep in classrooms where frequent hand washing is practiced. Offer to post wish lists from teachers and schools in your store for items that customers can contribute toward or purchase.

If your pharmacy usually sponsors a sports team with fewer or no games this season, consider redirecting dollars to a donation of health supplies to schools.


Obviously, continue to monitor the plans of schools in your community and look for opportunities to support students, families and teachers.

Your pharmacy can help in the unique needs related to COVID-19 by providing necessary immunizations, including flu shots, by assisting with a wide range of healthcare needs, and by providing the many other back-to-school items that will help the year feel as normal as possible.


1Return to School During COVID-19, as of July 14, 2020.
2Vaccinations are Plummeting Amid Coronavirus Pandemic,” Marisa Fernandez, Axios, June 20, 2020.