By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed into law a bill that allows seventh- through twelfth-graders 30 days after the start of school to show proof of a current pertussis, or whooping cough, vaccination.
Before Brown signed the legislation, students would have been barred from school and school-related activities without proof of the shot.
“It would have (been) a real stressor for the first day of school,” said Steve Herrington, superintendent of Sonoma County schools.
This year marks the first year that students in the secondary grades are required to have the booster, or Tdap, to attend school. The law went into effect July 1 but school officials have been reaching out to parents and students for months urging them to get the necessary vaccination.
In February, Sonoma County health officials estimated as many as 17,000 teens didn’t have current immunizations. Health officials do not have updated numbers.
“We know it’s been difficult for schools over the summer to calculate and come up with numbers of students who still need this vaccination,” said Mark Netherda, interim Sonoma County Public Health Director.
“That doesn’t mean the kids haven’t been vaccinated,” he said. “It’s just that we don’t know and we won’t know until that kind of boom is lowered and they have to show up.”
There is no shortage of the pertussis, or whooping cough, vaccine and many offices and agencies are offering the shot, Netherda said.
Dr. David Smith, a pediatrician with Annadel Medical Group, said doctors had been trying to update inoculations even before the new law passed.
“We were prepared for a rush. There hasn’t been one,” he said. “Even with those deadlines, it hasn’t been a problem because the parents are tuned into it. Most pediatric offices have been doing it all along.”
The 30-day reprieve will allow school officials to hand out schedules, as well as sign up students for sports and extra curricular activities, while also maintaining communication with parents about the new requirement.
“From a public health standpoint, there is still a pertussis epidemic,” Netherda said. “Adolescents tend to be a reservoir for the disease, they spread it to younger siblings. We do feel that it is really a public health issue and it’s important for kids to get immunized if we are ever going to try to get a handle on this disease in California.”
Students can opt out of the requirement, but must have a parents sign a personal waiver in the presence of a school official.
More than 1,900 cases of pertussis have been reported in California this year. No deaths have been reported.
In 2010, 8,627 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of whooping cough were documented, including the deaths of 10 infants who were all too young to have received the first three doses of the vaccine. The numbers were the highest in 63 years, prompted state officials to declare an epidemic.