As students settle into the school year, along with their school supplies, clothes and backpacks, parents, grandparents and caregivers have the task of making sure their children are up to date on their annual health checkups and immunizations.
With nearly 45,000 students expected to attend Hamilton County public schools this year, along with private school students and area colleges and universities that enroll students here from all over the nation and the world, it is important to be reminded of Tennessee requirements and guidelines for back-to-school immunizations.
These requirements impact children enrolled in daycare facilities, pre-schools and pre-kindergarten programs as well as new kindergarten students, all students entering the seventh grade, and children in any grade who are first-time students in a Tennessee school. There are also specific requirements for students enrolling in Tennessee colleges and universities.
A full list of requirements is available online at http://tn.gov/health/article/required-immunizations. These are based on current national expert recommendations set by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
This is also a good time of year to think about adult immunizations.
Adults across the country become ill from diseases that could be prevented by vaccines, which in some cases lead to hospitalization and even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, many adults in the U.S. don't know that they continue to need immunizations throughout their life to protect against disease.
The CDC recommends a flu shot for children over six months old and adults each year, and adults should be up to date on a Td/Tdap vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).
Adults who are considered at-risk, based on factors including age and health conditions, may need additional vaccines such as pneumococcal, meningococcal, shingles, chickenpox, hepatitis A and B, or MMR (mumps, measles and rubella).
It is also important to note that adult immunization rates are especially low among African-Americans and Hispanics. For example, during the flu season of 2010-2011, 44 percent of white adults were vaccinated, while only 40 percent of Hispanics and 39 percent of African-Americans received vaccinations.
The CDC estimates that the direct cost of adult vaccine-preventable diseases is $10 billion annually in the United States, and the Institute of Medicine says that missed prevention opportunities are one of the six causes of excess cost in the country's health care system.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month. While we're doing the work to get our children immunized to go back to school, this is the perfect time for adults to talk to your physicians about the vaccines you might need, especially as we head into the fall and winter months when illness becomes even more prevalent.
So don't delay. Make that appointment today.
Dr. Nita Shumaker is a pediatrician at Galen Pediatrics North. She is the current president of the Tennessee Medical Association and past president of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.