NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Many students across Tennessee are enjoying their summer break. But it won’t be long before the bell rings for the new school year, and it’s never too early to think about school immunizations. Tennessee students are required to have a number of immunizations for school attendance.
“Getting vaccinated is so important to help protect all of us from infectious diseases,” said Kelly Moore, MD, MPH, director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. “Making sure your children have their required vaccinations is a good way to help ensure students won’t be out of the classroom due to a preventable illness.”
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.
“We encourage parents to avoid the last-minute rush of getting into a health care provider’s office by making sure their child has his or her needed immunizations now,” said Moore.
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.
One of the required immunizations is for measles, mumps and rubella, also known as MMR. An outbreak of five cases of measles was recently reported in Tennessee among contacts of an infected traveler, the first cases in the state in three years. None of these cases, all adults, had evidence of two doses of MMR vaccine.
“The measles virus is highly contagious and can stay airborne or live on surfaces for up to two hours,” said Jan Beville, MD, TDH Community Health Services medical director. “Measles is rare, but can be just a plane ride away. The two doses of MMR vaccine required for school and college protects more than 99 percent of healthy children.”
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. This is also the age pediatricians and other experts recommend preteens get their first of three doses of a vaccine to help prevent the cancers of men and women caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and their first dose of meningitis vaccine. Although HPV and meningitis vaccines are not required, they are recommended to be given at the same time as the required Tdap booster and any other vaccine a child may need.
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/.