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Tennessee health care and public health leaders urge immediate action to protect state’s children from vaccine-preventable diseases

Measures proposed to address decline in adolescent vaccination associated with the COVID-19 pandemic

Memphis, Tennessee, July 29, 2021

Statue of five children holding hands and playing while facing the sun.

Tennessee health care providers, public health professionals and community stakeholders today issued an urgent call to action to protect Tennessee children from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Tennessee health care providers, public health professionals and community stakeholders today issued an urgent call to action to protect Tennessee children from vaccine-preventable diseases.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant vaccination gap and lag in vital preventive services among U.S. children and adolescents. The deficits are even greater in Tennessee and threaten the health of children, families and communities.

Public health leaders today released a statement strongly encouraging health care systems and providers to take the following immediate actions to get back on track:

  • Identify patients who have missed recommended vaccinations and make contact to schedule appointments;
  • Ask parents and guardians about the vaccination status of their children; and
  • Use every patient visit as a vaccination opportunity.

As of May 2021, pandemic disruptions have been especially severe for adolescent vaccinations, including recommended vaccines to protect against whooping cough, human papillomavirus (HPV) cancer prevention and meningitis. Adolescent vaccinations have declined an average of 18% nationally compared to previous years, representing millions of missed doses. In Tennessee, adolescent vaccinations remain down 17% overall from a previous decline as high as 64% in March 2020 due to the pandemic. The negative effects of the pandemic on vaccinations for adolescents who are publicly insured have persisted, however, with some evidence of recovery among adolescents who are privately insured.

“Now that a COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for adolescents age 12 and older, routinely recommended adolescent vaccinations can be administered at the same time,” said Heather Brandt, Ph.D., director of the HPV Cancer Prevention Program at St. Jude, and a coordinator for the joint statement. “There is no time to waste in getting caught up on recommended vaccinations and taking advantage of COVID-19 vaccination to stay ahead of vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Pediatrician and president of ImmunizeTN Dorothy Sinard, M.D., said, “During this unprecedented time, when everyone is focused on staying healthy, it is important to remember that immunizations are critical for everyone.

 “Health care providers across Tennessee are making it a priority to provide a safe environment to patients and their families. Now more than ever, it is crucial to stay up to date on recommended vaccines,” Sinard said.

More information is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Tennessee Department of Health. This statement was developed by ImmunizeTN, Meharry Medical College, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and was endorsed by the following organizations:

  • American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
  • Arlington Dental
  • CHI Memorial Health Care System
  • Cumberland Pediatric Foundation
  • Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital
  • Memphis Business Group on Health
  • Tennessee Academy of Family Physicians
  • Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Tennessee Dental Association
  • Tennessee Hospital Association
  • Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Association
  • Tennessee Men’s Health Network
  • Tennessee Nurses Association
  • Tennessee Primary Care Association
  • Tennessee Section of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80% since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit stjude.org or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.