Middle-Schoolers Must Get Whooping Cough Shot

7th to 12th graders can not return to school without proof of Tdap vaccination.

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

Middle and high school students will not be allowed to return to school in the fall if they have not been vaccinated for pertussis, otherwise known as whooping cough.

A new state law that went into effect July 1 makes pertussis booster shots, called Tdap, mandatory for 7th to 12th grade students in the 2011-2012 school year. In subsequent years beginning with the 2012-2013 school year, incoming 7th graders will be required to get booster shots.

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Public health officials predict long lines at clinics and doctors’ offices if parents wait until the last minute to get their children vaccinated. A public awareness campaign was launched to encourage early compliance with the law.

“We hope parents will use the summer break to get a simple shot for their children. Parents can lead by example and also get vaccinated,” said Marina Alvarez, spokesperson for the County of Los Angeles Public Health Department.

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease characterized by severe coughing spells that could sometimes lead to vomiting. The coughs often have a “whooping” sound, hence the colloquial name for the disease. Serious complications include pneumonia, seizures and encephalopathy.

The disease is especially dangerous for infants under the age of 1 year old. Ten infants died in the past year, up from previous years when there was either one infant death or no deaths during the year, say health officials.

Because infants are too young to receive Tdap shots, caretakers and parents have been encouraged to get shots to prevent the possibility of infecting those who are more vulnerable, Alvarez says.

A spike in whooping cough cases prompted the new state law and the campaign by health departments around the state to encourage vaccinations for everyone 10 years or older.

Officials recorded 870 cases in 2010, making this the “worst epidemic” since 1947. Officials say they have not determined why there was an increase in whooping cough cases this year.

“Vaccines save thousands of lives each year… choosing not to vaccinate your children can have serious consequences,” said Jonathan E. Fielding, MS, MPH, Director of Public Health and Health Officer.

The price of shots range between $50 to $70, but health centers and clinics are providing shots at a much lower cost, around $20. Shots are often available for free to children under the age 18. To find out where Tdap shots are available, health officials recommend calling the county’s 24-hour information hotline 211 or visiting http://www.vaccinatela.com.

In addition to protecting against pertussis, the Tdap shot also guards against diptheria and tetanus. Alvarez says the shot should not be confused with the Dtap shot.

Students are being required to get vaccinated because “schools are havens for infection,” Alvarez said, assuring that “vaccines are safe” and that parents should not be concerned about the side effects.

Montebello Unified School District’s Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Service Mike Cobarrubias says the new law applies to 15,000 students in the district, making the goal of 100 percent participation a “massive undertaking.”

In addition to passing out flyers to parents, recording tele-parent messages, and posting information about the requirement on their website, MUSD officials have also partnered with St. Francis Medical Center and AltaMed to provide mobile clinics offering free shots throughout the summer.

The district will cross-reference the California Immunization Registry (CAIR) vaccination database, used by 80 percent of vaccination providers, to ensure they have current information about which students have already gotten shots.

Cobarrubias says 44 percent of MUSD students who are required to get shots have already done so. As the new school year nears and the number of students who still need to get vaccinated dwindles, the district may call parents directly to ensure all students are ready for school on time.

Thousands of LAUSD students at year-round schools showed up Tuesday without the required proof of immunization, creating chaos as school officials and nurses attempted to either verify information or provide students with forms to be filled out showing they had received the vaccination before they can return to school. Schools on the year-round schedule include Bell High School, Fremont High School, Huntington Park High School, Gage Middle School and Ellen Ochoa Learning Center.

Students who have not been vaccinated may be sent home, or be assigned to an auditorium or non-instructional area until they have received the Tdap shot. Forty percent of all LAUSD students have already gotten the booster shots, according to school officials.

School officials recommend looking up clinic locations at http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/ip/IZclinics/clinics.htm and getting more information about Pertussis at http://pertussis.lausd.net or http://www.shotsforschool.org.

You can view video examples of whooping cough at http://youtu.be/wuvn-vp5InE
and http://youtu.be/C1B7Q2XrYXw, as well as read the history of the recent epidemic at http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/acd/Diseases/Pertussis.htm.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story said nine infants died over the last year; the actual number is 10.

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July 7, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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