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Getting you back to school: What vaccines does your child need?

Pediatricians say it's important for children to get their wellness checks as the school year begins and to make sure their vaccines are up-to-date.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — As the school year begins across Tennessee, whether virtually or in-person, pediatricians are reminding parents of the importance of wellness checks for their children.

Why vaccinate?

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends immunizations to prevent those illnesses from spreading throughout the community. Many states have requirements that children get certain vaccines.

"Vaccines are important because it not only keeps your child safe but those children safe who can't get vaccinated," said Dr. Stephanie Gorman, a community physician for East Tennessee Children's Hospital at Seymour Pediatrics. "Some of our children have conditions that have a low immune system or are fighting off cancer."

She said that vaccinations help to prevent other children from getting sick, which is why it's important to maintain regular checkups with children and to make sure they're vaccinated.

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When does my child need a vaccine?

"For our kids under the age of 5, they are getting vaccines at almost every well-child check," Gorman said. "So it's really important for them to go to those appointments and get vaccines."

At the 5 year visit, children are recommended to get the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine as well as the Hepatitis A vaccine.

Each state has different requirements. People can find Tennessee's requirements online.

"After 5 years old, they get a pretty big hiatus," Gorman said. "Around 7th grade, we ware having them come back in and get more shots."

At that visit, children are recommended to get the meningitis vaccine as well as another booster shot for Tetanus, or TDAP. This shot reoccurs every ten years.

"Usually around 15 or 16 years old is when we ask kids if they are entering college or have a university plan," she said. "So we talk about the meningitis vaccine, which is recommended and required by most universities."

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Optional vaccines:

"We recommend Gardasil for our boys and girls," she said. "It's the first vaccine we have to prevent cancer. We are finding out various different types of cancer not just cervical, so we start vaccinating between 9 and 11. Most are offered during the 11-year well-check because we are already talking about the TDAP booster and meningitis vaccine."

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Adult vaccines:

People who are out of college and older may be wondering what vaccines they need now, or perhaps haven't done a good job keeping track of the last time they got a vaccine or booster.

"I think it's very important for people to talk to their health care providers when they have any questions about vaccines or last time they got vaccines," said Gorman.

If you're unsure, you can go to your doctor's office where they will draw your blood and look at your 'titers.' This sill show if you are immune by getting those vaccines previously or if you need a catch-up (a booster) and another vaccine.

"One vaccine that we do need a booster for is tetanus, called TDAP," Gorman said. "That is every ten years, something important you can talk to a health care provider about."

RELATED: Measles vaccines stay effective your entire life

Paying for immunizations:

Most insurances cover vaccines. However, there are programs for kids if this is not the case.

The Vaccines For Children (VFC) program is a federally funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay.

"There are programs to help those patients because the government has recommended these vaccines and know how important they are for children," said Gorman.

Where to get vaccines:

Vaccinations are available from local doctors, the Knox County Health Department or the Vine School Health Center at 220 Langland Street. 

Those who want to have their child vaccinated at the health department should call (865) 215-5070 to schedule an appointment. At the appointment, parents should have their photo ID, insurance card if applicable and their child’s vaccination record if they have it.

The health department is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Appointments are available at all three locations: Downtown Knoxville at 140 Dameron Avenue; North Knox County at 405 Dante Road; and West Knox County at 1028 Old Cedar Bluff Road. 

Both the immunizations and certificates are available at pediatrician offices or any KCHD location. Parents may contact their child’s pediatrician or the KCHD Immunization Program, (865) 215-5150, to determine if their child has received the required vaccinations.

Children with medical exemptions must provide documentation from their medical providers. Religious exemptions require a signed statement by the parent/guardian that vaccination(s) conflict with their religious tenets or practices.

Is it safe to visit a doctor's office right now for my child's wellness check?

At Dr. Gorman's office Seymour Pediatrics, they have made a lot of modifications to keep kids safe with the COVID pandemic.

"We are seeing well children in a separate area then sick patient children. We are seeing most sick patients in the afternoon to separate sick and well. Parents call from the parking lot and they don't even wait in the lobby, but go straight to a room," said Gorman.

Masks are on coming and going from the building and during the visit as well as going above and beyond cleaning rooms between each patient. 

"We are starting to see a lot more business and mostly around our well-child checks and trying to get the word out that they still need to come in and get their appointments done and check their weight and height and see how they are coping with being at home," said Gorman.

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