It might seem early to start planning for next school year, but by fall middle and high school students not protected against whooping cough will not be allowed in school.
Starting July 1, a new state law requires all students in grades seven through 12 to show proof that they received a whooping cough booster shot in order to start class. The Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) booster replaces the older Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster, and now includes protection against pertussis, also known as whooping cough. However, the Td booster does not satisfy the new whooping cough requirement. The law covers a large number of students, so get your protection now and have a worry-free summer. (You can read more about the law at www.shotsforschool.org)
The new rule follows the state's worst outbreak of whooping cough in more than 50 years. In 2010, more than 8,000 Californians fell ill and 10 infants died of whooping cough— a highly contagious disease that can cause severe "whoops" of coughing and sneezing, for weeks to months.
If the numbers don't seem dramatic, consider the increase in Contra Costa. The county went from fewer than 20 cases in 2009 to more than 200 last year. While we don't know the exact cause of the spike, we do know that getting a booster shot will protect your teen and people he or she comes in contact with.
Diseases can spread easily in schools, where students gather and share germs. Whooping cough is spread from student to student as easily as the common cold. Students then bring the disease home endangering younger siblings. Whooping cough is most severe—and most deadly—for infants.
Most vaccines depend on the concept of "Community Immunity" which means enough of us get the vaccine so the disease doesn't spread. This is particularly important for some in our community who can't get vaccinated, due to cancer, AIDS or other health reasons. It also protects those infants too young to have received the full protection of the initial vaccines.
Most people receive a series of shots in the first few years of life to build immunity against whooping cough, with a booster as they enter kindergarten. Immunity for whooping cough slowly wears off over time and many people haven't received a recent booster.
February 13-19 is Preteen Vaccine Week, which reminds us that middle and high school students are also recommended to get other vaccines including meningococcal and human papillomavirus. These vaccines help protect against meningitis and cervical cancer, but are not required for school entry.
We expect a flood of students in the weeks before school opens, so make an appointment today and hold on to your documentation to meet school requirements. By law, students who do not have proof of a Tdap booster shot will not be able to start school until proof is provided. This is also a great time for other family members to get a Tdap booster if they haven't gotten one.
Check with your health care provider to find out when and where to can get a Tdap shot. It is available at Contra Costa Health Services Immunization Clinics, and at some grocery stores and pharmacies. Check www.cchealth.org for times and locations.
Ms. Jenssen is the Immunization Coordinator for the Public Health Division of Contra Costa Health Services.
Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.