Tennessee is instituting two new immunization requirements for students this year.
For the 2010-11 school year, and having taken effect July 1, the state requires children enrolling in kindergarten to receive two doses of chicken pox vaccine, while children enrolling in seventh grade are required to get a shot covering diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (the latter for whooping cough) and undergo two doses of chicken pox vaccine or show proof of immunity. Lastly, students new to the system and those entering pre-school and pre-kindergarten must be vaccinated.
This is the first change with state vaccinations requirements in 10 years. In the past, Metro simply recommended — not required — the vaccinations.
Despite the change, Metro officials say it will be difficult to compare the effectiveness of this summer’s immunization success with past summers’ efforts.
“There really is no basis for a comparison to last year,” said Reba B. Bryant, coordinator of student health for Metro Nashville Public Schools.
In fact, Metro officials simply hope as many students as possible are vaccinated prior to Thursday, Aug. 12, the first day of classes. Students must show proof of vaccination to enroll. With a maximum number vaccinated and enrolled, the beginning of the school year will proceed, in theory, more smoothly, officials say.
Bryant said parents or guardians must provide their respective schools with either the original, signed immunization certificate or email a copy of the scanned certificate. Faxed copies are no longer accepted per state guidelines.
Tennessee provides students a personal belief exemption, which MNPS fully recognizes. A parent or guardian must provide a signed statement that “vaccinations conflict with their religious tenets or practices,” Bryant added.
Though classes begin this week with a half-day on Thursday, officials said they could not estimate the number of students who have yet to receive proper immunization. Many students opt to get immunized at private clinics, and some wait until a day or two before classes start to do so.
Tennessee trails the national average specifically for the 13-17-year-old range, according to statistics.
“The 13-17 age group is a difficult population to immunize because children in that age range are generally healthy,” said Becky Green, director of nursing with the Metro Public Health Department, which oversees Metro’s immunization program.
Green said Metro Health is implementing a fast-track vaccination clinic at the Lentz Public Health Center. Vaccines are free to Davidson County residents.
“We’ve been in print, on the news … we’re trying to get the word out,” Green said. “But there will always be a few people who wait until the last minute.”