Last minute rush for pertussis paperwork
While this year's drive to get students vaccinated for pertussis went down to the state-mandated wire, Kate Tharler, nurse for the Sonoma Valley Unified School District, is looking for an easier time next year.
This was the first year the state has mandated that students in grades seven through 12 receive vaccinations to combat pertussis - also known as whooping cough.
Most children receive the pertussis vaccine at a young age, but immunity wanes and a booster is required around age 10 for immunity to continue into adulthood. Students who already received the booster are required to bring proof of the vaccine, which can usually be obtained from the primary health provider, into the school.
This year, Tharler had to deal with getting paperwork from more than 2,250 students. Next year, the district will only have to deal with those entering the seventh grade and Tharler said she's already gotten paperwork from some parents of sixth graders.
At the deadline on Sept. 15, some 230 students at Altimira, Adele Harrison and Sonoma Valley High were called out of their classes because the district hadn't received the paperwork on their vaccinations.
As of last Friday, the number of students who hadn't filed their vaccination paperwork was down to about a dozen - and Tharler said she was waiting for one student's records to come from Mexico.
"We had kids who carried their records around in their backpack for a week," she said. And she said more than one mother put their children's records in the car and then forgot about them.
But despite the warning aimed at kids who weren't vaccinated or who didn't have a signed waiver by Sept. 15, few kids were actually sent home. "I'm not sure how many were sent home, but I don't want kids missing any school," she said. "We need to get this wrapped up."
Tharler said she received a lot of records on the last day they were due.
The new law was inspired by a massive spike in the number of cases of whooping cough last year. In 2010, the state saw a 63-year high when 9,143 patients were diagnosed, and 10 infants died from complications from the disease, according to the California Department of Public Health. Sonoma County had 241 cases that year, with another 90 reported by the end of May in 2011.
The district sent home four letters about the state-mandated vaccinations starting last December. "Because people wait until the last minute, we tried not to overwhelm doctors' offices," she said.
Parents could also sign a waiver exempting their student from the vaccine based on personal belief, but forms had to be filled out in person in the school's office. And, in the case of a whooping cough outbreak, students who are not immunized will be required to stay home from school.
"Everybody did their part," Tharler said. "I'm grateful to the doctors and the clinics and the school staff. Everybody's been wonderful."
And the best part is that she already has records from sixth-grade parents who are trying to get ahead of the curve next year.