Frequent news reports about whooping cough and measles, diseases long thought vanquished by vaccines in the US, serve as a reminder of the importance of getting back-to-school immunizations for your child now.
In Tennessee, children enrolling in school for the first time and all children going into seventh grade must provide schools with a state immunization certificate before classes start as proof they have had all the immunizations necessary to protect them and their classmates from serious vaccine-preventable diseases.
"Immunizations are required for school because they protect the health of the students when they are in the classroom," said Kelly Moore, MD, MPH, director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. "We need students in school every day focusing on learning and not getting sick."
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.
All students entering seventh grade are required to have proof they have had two doses of chickenpox vaccine (or a history of illness) and a booster shot for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis or whooping cough, commonly known as "Tdap," to protect them through their teens.
Another required immunization is for measles, mumps and rubella, also known as MMR.
This is also the age pediatricians recommend preteens get their first of three doses of a vaccine to help prevent cancers caused by the human papillomavirus and their first dose of meningitis vaccine. Although HPV and meningitis vaccines are not required for pre-teens, they are recommended to be given at the same time as the required Tdap booster and any other vaccine a child may need.
"The HPV vaccine is very important for pre-teens because it will protect them from a variety of cancers as they get older," said Moore. "We strongly encourage parents make sure their child gets the meningitis and HPV vaccines at the same time they're given the required Tdap booster."
In 2013, Governor Bill Haslam signed into law the "Jacob Nunley Act" requiring new incoming college students who live in on-campus housing to provide proof of immunization against meningococcal meningitis.
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.
The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments. Learn more about TDH services and programs at http://health.state.tn.us/.