Dr Terri Lewis
- Dr Terri Lewis resides in Silver Point, Tennessee, and is the Executive Director of the Global Immunization Action Network team.
In recent days, the contingent of state legislative anti-vaccines successfully intimidate the Tennessee Department of Health into cancellation of childhood immunization programs – not just for COVID-19, but for all diseases.
It appears the department, responsible for public health in 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties, excluding large metropolitan areas where local agencies exercise more authority, will no longer conduct public awareness for preventable childhood communicable diseases. .
“Don’t ask, don’t say” seems to be the new public health strategy.
The state is already late
Tennessee lags the nation in all vaccine disease prevention measures. As of July 13, the number of Tennesséens fully vaccinated against COVID-19 was 2,599,234, or 38.06% of the population. Overall, Tennessee ranks 33rd among 50 states with a child immunization rate of 79.9% against a population of 6,944,260. Tennessee is currently meeting the Healthy People 2030 goals for two of three measures related to vaccination for 24-month-old children.
But there are significant gaps.
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Many children in Tennessee have not completed the entire series of preventable disease vaccines in the past decade. Minority children are less likely to be fully immunized. Some parents have refused all routine immunizations.
Progress towards achieve vaccination rates for children up to the age of 24 months can be found on the website of the Ministry of Health.
More worrying is the announcement of Dr. Tim Jones, chief medical officer of the department, that from now on, no vaccination effort will be carried out for routine childhood vaccines, the HPV vaccine being particularly singled out.
No outreach includes pre-planning for influenza vaccination events in schools and back-to-school vaccines, and by inference, routine vaccinations for infants, toddlers, adolescents and students. Responsibility for back-to-school vaccines will become the responsibility of the Tennessee Department of Education, not the state Department of Health.
What makes a successful broadcast
The elements of a successful advocacy effort are well documented.
First, education and messages to parents and the community about the safety, effectiveness and importance of childhood immunizations are essential to ensure that children receive all preventive vaccines. With the gap in health insurance coverage for children, this is an important function of the Tennessee Department of Health at the state county level.
Second, there must be easy access to vaccines at every opportunity. The percentage of children without health insurance increased from 5.2% in 2018 to 5.7% in 2019, with Hispanic children the most represented in the child insurance coverage gap. By fall 2020, 9% of children in Tennessee were uninsured, more than double the level at the same time in 2019, according to the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy: “Short periods of uninsured can have long-term effects on children’s health and their academic success… children who lose Their insurance misses important vaccinations and spends months with major unresolved issues. … ”Children who fall into the coverage gap are the least likely to receive preventive care.
Third, reliable and easily accessible immunization records that provide an unduplicated reflection of on-time immunizations are important to ensure an accurate personal history for personal health management. This responsibility rests with health providers, not the Tennessee Department of Education. Lack of health coverage will amplify the negative impact of the childhood coverage gap when the health system fails to carry out routine sensitization actions.
Finally, preventable childhood illnesses are on the rise with declining immunization rates. Uninsured children are particularly vulnerable. Compared to privately insured children, uninsured children have more health disadvantages, including the need for medical or dental care; greater disease severity, more hospitalizations and higher death rates; more vaccine-preventable diseases; and higher rates of chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes.
The announced actions that resulted in the decisions to end the leadership of the immunization program and cease awareness of the immunization program will have adverse effects resulting in tangible and measurable harm to children and youth in Tennessee.
I strongly encourage a re-examination of these knee-jerk reactions to pressure from certain sectors of the population.
Dr Terri Lewis resides in Silver Point, Tennessee, and is the CEO of Global Immunization Action Network team.