Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Epidemic forcing students to get vaccinated (Press Enterprise by Michelle L. Klampe) November 29, 2010

Epidemic forcing students to get vaccinated

  Download story podcast

07:05 AM PST on Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Press-Enterprise

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 next fall.

State, county and school officials have a few months to notify parents of a state law passed in September that requires seventh- through 12th-graders at public and private schools to get immunized.

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.

To prepare, health officials are notifying private doctors and offering vaccinations at public health clinics. School officials are informing parents and considering giving shots on campuses.

"It is going to be a huge challenge for schools," said Cathy Owens, lead nurse for the Murrieta Valley Unified School District. "We've never had a high school vaccination requirement before."

The new law will affect roughly 40 percent of the Murrieta Valley's 22,000 students, most of whom will likely need vaccinations, Owens said. Once all current middle and high school students are vaccinated, the law in future years will affect only incoming seventh-graders.

If students aren't vaccinated, their absence could hurt schools that rely on student attendance to get state funding.

"This is a no shots, no school policy," Owens said. "There is no grace period."

The rapid rise in pertussis cases this year 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, statistics from the California Department of Public Health show.

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 this year, 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.


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, Cole said.

Parents are encouraged to vaccinate their children now to avoid the crush expected when the start of school nears next year.

Officials at several Inland school districts said they already are working to educate parents.

"We're telling anybody who walks through the door, especially at the high schools," Owens said.

Steve Behar, director of child welfare and attendance for the Lake Elsinore Unified School District, said officials plan to send fliers with students several times over the next few months. The district also is considering clinics at schools or in the community, he said.

The challenge is "going to be making sure people understand it is not a district policy," Behar said. "It is the law, so we don't have a choice."

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

Nancy Carpenter, district nurse for the Temecula Valley Unified School District, said she also is looking at vaccination clinics, likely in summer before school starts to avoid losing lesson time.

Temecula Valley officials are reviewing health records to determine how many students will need vaccinations, she said.


They also must determine how to record students' compliance, because the cards used to track immunizations don't have a spot for the new pertussis requirement, she said.

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

Now that he learned from Hemet High officials about the requirement, Blake Sanches, 16, said he is planning on getting the booster in a few weeks. The junior said he hoped the vaccination would cut down on his classmates being out sick.

"It's just another shot on the list," Sanches said on a recent day at the Hemet Valley Mall. "We have a school of 3,000 kids coughing on each other."

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, she said.

Hemet parent Michelle Fisher said her 13-year-old daughter won't be getting the shot because of the family's Christian Science beliefs. Her daughter, she said, would stay healthy through a proper diet.

"There's no such thing as required vaccinations," Fisher said. "We don't need to drug our kids to keep them healthy."

Staff writer John Asbury contributed to this report.

Reach Michelle L. Klampe at 951-375-3740 or


WHAT: An infectious disease, also known as pertussis, that is caused by bacteria. Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing followed by a high-pitched "whoop."

SIGNS/SYMPTOMS: Infants will show signs of a cold, including runny nose, and may or may not have a cough or fever. They may also develop trouble breathing. In adolescents and adults, symptoms start with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, followed by severe coughing for weeks to months.

DANGER: The disease spreads easily from person to person through close contact. It can be serious for infants, and in rare cases, can cause death.

Source: Riverside County Department of Public Health, Centers For Disease Control


A law passed in September requires all public and private school students entering seventh- through 12th-grade in fall 2011 to show proof of a whooping cough booster shot, or Tdap, before starting school. Beginning in 2012, the law will affect only students entering seventh grade.

TO COMPLY: The state recommends that children receive Tdap on or after their 10th birthday. However, a student will have met the new school requirement by showing proof of a pertussis booster on or after their 7th birthday.

EXEMPTIONS: Parents or guardians can seek a waiver if the immunization is against their personal beliefs. Physicians also can provide a medical exemption.

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

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


Source: State and County Health departments

No comments: