Parents working on checklists to get their children ready for the start of school have an important health item to include: required immunizations. In Tennessee, children enrolling in school for the first time and all children going into 7th grade must provide schools with a state immunization certificate before classes start as proof they have had immunizations necessary to protect them and their classmates from serious vaccine-preventable diseases.
Kindergarten students and those who will be entering the seventh grade next month must have their immunizations up to date or their parents risk those children not being enrolled in school.
Dee Anna Reynolds, School Health Coordinator, and Director of Schools Mark Willoughby addressed the issue during the April school board meeting. "Our nurses checked records for students in the sixth grade who will be going into the seventh grade. Parents of students who are currently not compliant in the sixth grade should have received a letter prior to spring break giving them the opportunity to get those immunizations current and up to date then on the first day, registration day August 2, Coordinated School Health and our school nurses will be there checking those records one final time," said Reynolds
Director of Schools Willoughby said incoming kindergarten students must also meet state immunization requirements. "Basically the state of Tennessee says that in the seventh grade year, you don't start school unless your immunizations are up to date. For the past two years, we have actually been letting students come (to school) and to work with them on trying to get those immunizations up to date in a time frame. This year we're doing more homework up front in notifying those parents. They've already gotten one notification before spring break. We're going to follow the state guidelines and for seventh graders and kindergarten students, if they come to school to register and they do not have their immunizations up to date, we're going to ask them at that time to go get their immunizations," said Willoughby.
Reynolds added "Just to let parents know, there are two shots that we're checking for, because all other shots should be current anyway up until sixth grade, and that is the Tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis booster ("Tdap") and then there's a second dose of Varivax which is chicken pox. The only way they would be allowed back in school without that second dose of Varivax is if they do have a doctor's documentation of having had the chicken pox. So that's the two we're looking for and checking for in our sixth graders who will be seventh graders next month," said Reynolds.
"We understand the challenges of getting children ready to start school; having immunization certificates completed and ready helps make the start of school go more smoothly," said Kelly Moore, MD, MPH, medical director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. "Getting vaccinated is a safe and simple way to protect us all from potentially deadly diseases, and it helps ensure children won't miss important classroom time due to a preventable illness."
Most insurance plans, including TennCare, fully cover recommended and state-required childhood vaccines, as well as the cost of annual well child examinations through the age of 21. Insured children are encouraged to visit their primary healthcare provider or other provider who can administer vaccines and bill insurance for any services they might need. TDH strongly recommends a visit to the child's primary care provider so the child can have an annual well child physical exam at the same time. Annual wellness visits are important to keep children healthy through all the changes of the pre-teen and teenage years, but many don't get these important preventive health services.
Local health departments have vaccines available for all uninsured children, those whose insurance doesn't cover vaccines, and any child who has difficulty getting in to see a healthcare provider to get a required vaccine. Local health departments can issue immunization certificates and transcribe immunization records for any child if the family isn't able to get a certificate from their healthcare provider for any reason.
It is important to note that certain important vaccines are recommended, but not required, for
pre-teens and teens, and that most teens are missing at least one vaccine recommended to
protect their health. These include a vaccine against certain types of meningitis and the HPV
vaccine against viruses that cause cervical cancer in women and other cancers in men. Many teens have missed out on getting a second dose of chickenpox vaccine or the tetanus,
diphtheria and pertussis booster shot (Tdap), both of which are now required for 7th graders.
Parents should talk to their healthcare provider about vaccines their child may need to stay healthy, even if not required for school.
The complete list of Tennessee Child Care and School Immunization requirements is available on the TDH website at: http://health.state.tn.us/TWIS/requirements.htm. Questions about school policies on when or how immunization certificates must be provided should be directed to local schools.
"Thanks to the cooperative work of primary care providers, families, schools and local health departments, Tennessee has very high immunization rates among our school children, which saves lives and protects their health," Moore said. "But we can't rest on our laurels; in order to eliminate the needless burden of vaccine-preventable diseases, we have to make sure all children are vaccinated on time with the vaccines recommended for them. This effort to defeat vaccine-preventable disease begins again with each child born in Tennessee and continues for a lifetime."
The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit http://health.state.tn.us/.