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. "If you don't have your shots (immunization record complete), you're not going to get to come to school and If you don't come to school, our new attendance supervisor Joey Reeder will be making a visit and filing petitions on students for not being in school," said Director of Schools Mark Willoughby during Thursday night's school board meeting.
Tennessee students are required to have a number of immunizations for school attendance, and parents are urged to make appointments now for needed vaccinations to avoid the last-minute rush to get them when the new school year starts.
"We got off to a great start Thursday with our pre-k registration and we have partnered with the health department to help us check those (immunization) records," said Dee Anna Reynolds, School Health Coordinator. They (health department) will be out at seventh grade registration on August 1 to check records for us. They will also be making appointments for us that afternoon and all day on Friday to get those kids into compliance and they will be doing some immunization clinics for seventh graders," she said.
"The health department has been super, great to work with this year," said Willoughby. "They are going to make an appointment with the child and their parents on when they can come to the health department and get their shots. Like state law says, they are not going to be allowed to attend school (without their immunizations being up to date). Three or four years ago we worked through that and let some people come (to school without up to date record of immunizations) and we really weren't supposed to. But the people that still don't have their shots, they have received letters and phone calls," said Willoughby
“We don’t want to see children turned away from school on the first day because they lack their completed immunization certificates, but unfortunately this can and does happen,” said Kelly Moore, MD, MPH, director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. “Tennessee parents can avoid the stress of trying to get into a health care provider’s office at the last minute by taking care of immunization needs now.”
Specific immunizations are required for children entering child care or pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten and seventh grade, and for any children in other grades enrolling in a Tennessee school for the first time. For a list of required immunizations, visit http://health.state.tn.us/CEDS/required.htm. School certificates may be obtained from your child’s healthcare provider or from a local health department. Questions about school policies on when or how immunization certificates must be provided should be directed to local schools.
Full-time college students in Tennessee are also required to have immunizations, including a new state law effective July 1, 2013, requiring freshmen younger than 22 years of age who attend state colleges and will live in campus housing to provide proof of immunization against meningococcal disease.
“Getting vaccinated is a safe and simple way to protect us all from potentially deadly diseases,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Vaccination also helps ensure students don’t miss important classroom time due to preventable illnesses, and that parents don’t have to miss work to care for sick children.”
Vaccines prevent disease from occurring rather than treating existing illnesses. High rates of routine vaccination in the United States protect the population from diseases that are still common in other countries, such as measles. The Tdap booster required for students entering seventh grade is especially important, given the resurgence of pertussis, or whooping cough, in the United States. TDH supports and promotes all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for childhood and adolescent vaccinations as an important primary prevention measure to protect public health.
Immunizations required for school are available from a variety of health care providers, including county health departments. Children may be eligible to receive free vaccine if they have no insurance, are enrolled in TennCare, have private insurance that does not cover vaccines, or are American Indian or Alaska Native. There is a separate charge for administration of the vaccine which may be discounted for children with no insurance, who are American Indian or Alaska Native, and children with private insurance that does not cover vaccines.
Parents with insurance for their children that covers vaccines should contact their child’s primary care provider to get immunizations. If the private provider does not have vaccines available for older children or adolescents, parents may call their local health department for an appointment. There may be charges associated with this service.
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/.