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Across Tennessee, thousands of families are caring for children with significant disabilities or complex medical needs. Many of them are accustomed to countless doctors’ appointments, therapy visits and the fear that even a common cold can lead to complications for their child. The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly elevated concerns among caregivers about the health and wellbeing of their children, and how the virus might impact their ability to provide critical care. 

Tennessee has worked to prioritize the COVID-19 vaccine for those at highest risk for complications and death from the virus, and this includes medically fragile children and their caregivers. While none of the COVID-19 vaccines are yet approved for children under age 16, parents are their closest contacts and direct caregivers. After all, a parent with a COVID-19 infection can endanger a child who runs the risk of serious complications if they are in turn infected with the virus. 

This is why caregivers of medically fragile children are prioritized in Phase 1c of Tennessee’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan. Since the children cannot receive a vaccine, but can suffer serious complications from COVID-19, it’s important to help protect them through their caregivers. This also helps the caregivers to remain capable of providing care.

Phase 1c includes caregivers of children who:

  • Depend on technology for their care (such as those who are ventilator-dependent, oxygen-dependent, with tracheostomy, and wheelchair bound due to high-risk medical condition, or require tube feedings, parenteral nutrition, or dialysis);
  • Have immunocompromised conditions (such as those who are receiving chemotherapy, require daily oral steroids or other immunosuppressant medications, require medication to control diabetes, and those with HIV/AIDS or other diagnosed high-risk immunodeficiency);
  • Have complex congenital heart disease requiring ongoing medical management (such as Tetralogy of Fallot, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, or double outlet right ventricle); and,
  • Qualify for the Katie Beckett waiver.

The state’s Katie Beckett waiver opened for applications in November 2020. The program is jointly run by TennCare and the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and provides Medicaid or other health and community services to children under age 18 with significant disabilities and/or complex medical needs. Already, approximately 500 children are enrolled in the program and receiving benefits that can help save children’s lives and improve the family’s overall mental wellbeing. 

DIDD and TennCare have reached out to Katie Beckett families to let them know they’re eligible for COVID-19 vaccine. TennCare’s health plans are notifying members of eligibility and assisting them with scheduling vaccination and providing transportation to vaccine sites if needed.

Caregivers with questions about how to receive a vaccine or whether they’re eligible can email [email protected]. DIDD and TennCare have also partnered with the Department of Health and the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities to offer resources for people with disabilities and their families to help them learn about the vaccine.

Anyone interested in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine may find information about local availability of the vaccine at https://vaccines.gov/search/ and general information about COVID-19 and vaccines in Tennessee at https://covid19.tn.gov