NASHVILLE, Tenn. - 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.
"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/