Tennessee lawmakers wish to know if youngsters in state custody are getting vaccines; DCS is not saying – Tennessee Lookout

As COVID infections among children in Tennessee rise, two Democratic lawmakers say they tried – and so far, failed – to learn how the state Department of Children’s Services is offering vaccinations to children in their care.

DCS has sole responsibility for the care and welfare of approximately 9,000 Tennessee children, most of whom have been removed from their homes on allegations of abuse or neglect. More than 3,700 of these children are 12 years or older and therefore suitable for a COVID-19 vaccination.

Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, and Senator Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, spent two weeks looking for “current data on COVID-19 vaccinations in children who are DCS wards, regardless of whether they are incarcerated in government foster families or in the care of a hostel ”and“ the department’s plan to ensure that all eligible children receive a vaccine in the future ”.

The department has not yet provided responses to the July 27 legislature emailed questions. Instead, they offered a meeting, as e-mails show. DCS also failed to respond to a series of email questions and phone messages from the Lookout regarding vaccination efforts over the past week.

“I’m happy to meet her, but we want this information and we didn’t get it,” said Johnson. There was also no meeting, she said.

Rep Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Johnson said she was looking for the information to know that these children are being well looked after and will not fall through the cracks. That the houses or places they are in will not affect whether or not they will be vaccinated. These children have been through a lot. We must do everything we can to make sure they are not burdened with COVID and of course to ensure the health of everyone in the community. “

The request comes as more children in Tennessee test positive for the virus as the Delta variant is triggering a new wave of COVID infections across the state.

While more Tennessee residents are choosing to vaccinate, the state’s overall vaccination rate remains one of the lowest in the nation, and it is even lower for children. Eligible children in Tennessee are the least likely age group to have been vaccinated.

Only 16.8% of 12 to 16 year olds in Tennessee are fully vaccinated (8.4% are partially vaccinated), while 26.2% of young people between the ages of 17 and 20 are fully vaccinated (of which 7% are partially vaccinated) vaccinated). Department of Health data with no breakdown up to 18 years of age.

Tennessee leaders including Governor Bill Lee and Chief of Health Dr. Lisa Piercey, have emphasized that it is up to the parents to make the decision whether children receive the vaccine.

Children in DCS custody are under the legal supervision and control of the state, which in fact serves as their parents.

In response to questions from Lookout in July, DCS Chief of Staff Jennifer Donnals said the decision to vaccinate eligible children in DCS custody rests with the foster parents and agencies who have signed a contract with the department to operate residential facilities with multiple children.

Vaccination information is kept on every child’s medical records, she said. Donnals didn’t respond when asked if the ministry is able to generate reports from its central database of child records to show how many eligible children have been vaccinated, a data point that would provide a more detailed review of the state’s response to it the needs of children in his care during a pandemic.

DCS Vaccination Guidelines for Authorities and Foster Parents were updated after Dr. Michelle Fiscus, the state’s former vaccine chief at the Department of Health, whose own guide to health care providers across the state, the “mature” Minor Doctrine “law that gave children autonomy to decide who to vaccinate, has become a focus of controversy.

An earlier version of the DCS Guide, dated March 18, stated: “Vaccinations against this infection have been shown to be of vital importance in controlling the pandemic and returning to normal. Vaccines are considered to be highly effective in preventing serious infections and death. “

A spokeswoman for the Department of Children’s Services did not respond when asked if the Department is able to generate reports from its central child record database to show how many eligible children have been vaccinated.

The updated Foster Parents Guide eliminates almost all information about the vaccine. Instead, the document, which was updated on July 20, contains a sentence about the COVID vaccine that says:

“Foster parents and other caregivers are given authority and responsibility for the day-to-day upbringing and care of the children they care for, in accordance with the child’s individual circumstances and in consultation with the child’s health care provider, including routine powers in matters such as nursing treatment , Vaccination, sight and hearing. “

The department’s official language was changed eight days after Dr. Fiscus.

In an interview with the Lookout, Dr. Fiscus that she was particularly concerned about children in DCS custody living in dormitories, including juvenile detention centers, treatment centers for children with emotional or physical care needs operated by agencies that have contracts with DCS and the Wilder Youth Developmental Facility, a safe facility for young people who have committed serious crimes.

More than 1,500 of the children in DCS custody live in these group settings, which have been the source of mass outbreaks that have infected hundreds of children.

“The children who are in DCS custody and who live in groups have seen cases go through,” said Dr. Fiscus in an interview with the Lookout. “Now we can prevent that and it is tragic that we do not provide easy access to the vaccine.”

By the end of July, at least 1,247 children in DCS custody had contracted COVID, including 729 children in group facilities where outbreaks have occurred, 443 in nursing homes and 75 boys in Wilder.

At least 51 other children in DCS custody have contracted COVID in juvenile detention centers, a number last updated in March. DCS has since stopped publishing data on COVID outbreaks in these county facilities.

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