In September 2010, the California legislature passed a law requiring all students in grades seven through 12 who are in private and public schools to show proof they received the “Tdap” vaccine that protects against pertussis. The shot also protects against tetanus and diphtheria.
Still, about a dozen students outside of Richmond High School on a recent day after school said they hadn’t heard about the shots.
“I haven’t heard of anything,” said Richmond High School tenth-grader Mitchell Garcia.
Another teen, Perla Posadas, said her parents have not gotten the notice from Richmond High School either. “They haven’t told us,” Posadas said.
School district Nurse Frances Ng, who is leading the school district’s efforts to inform parents of the new requirement, said they have been alerting parents of the new requirements. “When I heard of it, I sent a copy of the alert to the principals, I met with my staff so they’re aware of it. I’ve also prepared packets…for parents,” Ng said. A letter was sent to every school in the district to alert them of the new requirement, Ng said.
Health aids were also assigned to high school to help administer shots, Ng added. Usually, budget constraints only allow health aides at elementary and middle schools.
Richmond has more than 3,600 students in public schools in grades seven through 12, according to the latest enrollment data from the School Accountability Report Card. The school district has over 12,000 students who will be required to have the shot, Ng said.
All of these students will need to be vaccinated before Fall 2011, because the new state law becomes effective July 1. For the 2012–2013 school year, only students who are going into seventh grade will need to show proof.
School children who have a medical exemption or personal beliefs exemption are not required to get the shot to attend school.
Whooping cough spiked last year, and in June, the state’s health department said it was the worst in 50 years.
“Whooping cough is now an epidemic in California,” Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public health said in a statement.
Students won’t have the ten-day grace period, as they do with other school-required vaccines, said Sergio Martin, senior disease intervention technician at Contra Costa Public Health.
“The first day of school in August, if they don’t have Tdap, they won’t be admitted,” Martin said. “No ands, ifs or buts.”
Jim Trombley, executive director at Manzanita Charter School, a co-op school in Richmond serving sixth, seventh and eight graders, said they’ve been sending notices to the families of the school’s 150 students. He said the school is letting people know during the parent meetings and through phone calls home.
“We would make 6th, 7th, and 8th, graders get it,” Trombley said.
Seventh grade student Andressa DeSouza got her whooping cough vaccine on a recent Monday at the Contra Costa Health Services clinic in Richmond.
The 13-year-old said her school, Juan Crespi Middle School in El Sobrante, nearly six miles north of Richmond, sent a flyer alerting her parents that students will need to be vaccinated against the pertussis.
Nurse Michelle Sharman looked at the teen’s electronic vaccine records. She found that DeSouza already had the shot.
“You’re good until 2020,” Sharman told the young girl.
Immunization Coordinator Erika Jenssen said the health department has been working closely with schools to inform parents and help them prepare for this fall.
“Students will need vaccination records to get into school, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead,” Jenssen said in a statement. “Make an appointment early and hold onto your records.”
Martin said families without health insurance pay a low fee for the shot at one of their four immunization clinics across Contra Costa County, including one on Mondays in Richmond. There are fee waivers to ensure that people who aren’t able to pay the $10 per shot don’t go without it.
In Contra Costa County, whooping cough cases rose to more than 200 last year, compared to less than 20 cases the previous year. State health officials say the whooping cough is cyclical, peaking every two to five years. In 2005, more than 3,000 cases were recorded. Eight people died.
Health officials estimated that at least 10 infants have died from pertussis in California in 2010.
For adults and older children, whooping cough can cause severe-cold like symptoms including runny noses, sneezing and mild coughing. People may gag or vomit at the end of the coughing fits.
In infants it can be fatal. Ten infants died last year in California, according to state officials.
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