Parents warned no shots, no school
ONE OF THE LONGEST LINES at Saturday's rush at Sonoma Valley High was a line for the school nurse and the paperwork for making sure students have been vaccinated against pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough. All students in grades seven through 12 have to be inoculated against the disease this year. From left are Karen Steral and sons Owen, a 9th grader and Max, an 11th grader, along with Lenore Lohnes and her son, Chris, a 10th grader.
Every California student in grades seven through 12 will need to be vaccinated against whooping cough, also known as pertussis, but Gov. Jerry Brown has given parents an extra 30 days to make sure their child is inoculated.
After several schools closed last year due to outbreaks of the disease, the state Legislature passed a law requiring all students to get vaccinated before they would be allowed to return to school for the 2011-12 year. When it became apparent many of the larger school districts could not reasonably meet that requirement, Brown amended the law to give students an extra 30 days from the day their school starts to get the vaccine and submit proof to their school.
"For our district, the 30 days ends on Sept. 15," said Kate Tharler, nurse for the Sonoma Valley Unified School District, who has been coordinating the massive effort to ensure all students can meet the requirement. "After that, it's no school, no sports and no extra curricular activities until the student is immunized."
Any student who has gotten a tetanus shot, known as Tdap, in the past five years has been vaccinated against whooping cough, and will just need to provide documentation to their school's office. The Tdap shot is different than the whooping cough vaccine most toddlers receive; the immunity wanes over time and a booster is needed around age 10. Students who got the booster after their seventh birthday will be considered immune. Parents are advised to contact their primary care physician to obtain the shot for their child.
"The public heath department is in the process of planning an immunization clinic, but they haven't picked a date yet," Tharler said, adding that it's likely to be the first week of September in Santa Rosa.
During the Sonoma Valley High School rush on Saturday, a time when students and parents bring in all the necessary forms for the upcoming year, Tharler said dozens of kids brought in their documentation for the immunization. She has yet to calculate what percentage of Sonoma Valley students are compliant with the law, as she is still working through the forms turned in last weekend.
Parents may also sign a waiver exempting their student from the vaccine based on personal belief, but forms must be filled out in person in the school's office. Additionally, in the case of a whooping cough outbreak, students that are not immunized will be required to stay home from school.
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.
As part of the new law, in future years, only students entering the seventh grade will be required to submit proof of the booster vaccine.
For more details, visit Sonoma County's Public Health Division website at www.sonoma-county.org/health/ph.