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No Whooping Cough Shot, No School

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By Lee Ragin –

Thousands of Inland middle and high school students will need a booster shot to ward off whooping cough if they want to go back to school this fall.

“This is a no shots, no school policy,” said Dr. Maxwell Ohikhuare, Health Officer, San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. “There is no grace period.”

State, county and school officials are turning up the heat on notifying parents of a state law passed in September 2010 that requires seventh-through 12thgraders at public and private schools to get immunized.

Beginning July 1, 2011, all students entering grades 7-12 must provide proof of having a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough) booster shot before starting school.

Whooping cough (pertussis) has been widespread in California since 2010. 1,428 cases with onset in 2011 have been reported to the California Department of Public Health. 326 new cases have been reported since the last update on 5/16/2011.

The rapid rise in pertussis cases in 2010 spurred the law. Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 16, California recorded 6,795 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of the disease, the most cases since 1947, according to statistics from the CDPH.

In light of California’s recent whooping cough epidemic, there is no reason to wait for the new school year to get the Tdap booster shot. “It is going to be a huge challenge for schools. We've never had a high school vaccination requirement before.” said Dr. Ohikhuare. Parents are encouraged to vaccinate their children now to avoid the crush expected when the start of school nears next year.

Scheduling a well visit with your child’s doctor is the perfect opportunity to get your preteen and teen several important vaccines recommended for this age group including Tdap, the meningococcal vaccine, a second chickenpox shot (if they never had chickenpox disease or had only one dose of the vaccine), annual influenza, and the HPV vaccine series.

Health officials hope the additional vaccination against whooping cough, also known as pertussis, will prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease in California, which has seen more cases this year than any year since 1947.

Inland health have notified private doctors and offering vaccinations at public health clinics. School officials have informed parents and plans are under way to give shots on campuses.

Children are vaccinated against whooping cough through a series of shots that begin in infancy. But the immunization wears off over time, so a booster shot around age 10 will keep children protected while in school, Dr. Ohikhuare said.

The disease can cause severe illness and, in rare cases, death -- particularly in infants. Since Jan. 1, 10 deaths have been reported in California, including two infants in San Bernardino County.

In Riverside County, 307 pertussis cases were reported between Jan. 1 and Nov. 4, 2010 compared to 46 cases during the same period in 2009, statistics from the county Public Health Department show. There have been no deaths in Riverside County.

Public health officials have been urging older children to get a booster vaccination since last summer, so some already comply with the new school requirement, said Barbara Cole, Riverside County's disease control director.

The challenge is “going to be making sure people understand it is not a city, county or school policy,” Dr. Ohikhuare said. “It is the law, so we don't have a choice.”

For now, most school officials will accept whatever documentation parents have as proof of vaccination. Parents can provide the proof anytime.

California law allows some exemptions to vaccine requirements for medical purposes or if the immunizations go against parents' personal beliefs. Owens, the Murrieta school nurse, said parents who want their child exempted must fill out a new waiver for the pertussis booster. Existing waivers won't work.

San Bernardino City Unified School District officials sent letters to all students in October and have provided informational programs, in English and Spanish, to the local community access television channel, spokeswoman Linda Bardere said.

IMPACT: Students who are not vaccinated and are not exempted cannot attend school.

VACCINATIONS: The vaccine is available at public health clinics in San Bernardino County for $10. To make an appointment and get clinic schedules, call 800-722-4777. Shots are available through private physicians or at public health clinics.

Riverside County clinics offer the shots for a small fee on a walk-in basis. No one will be turned down if they can’t afford to pay. Call 800-720-9553 for clinic locations.

INFORMATION: www.getimmunizedca.org