Mountain View Voice

News - July 29, 2011

Deadline looms for whooping cough shots

Students need proof of booster shot or waiver when school starts

by Nick Veronin

About a third of Mountain View elementary students still need to get whooping cough booster shots before school starts, and high school students could be turned away from class if they haven't been immunized by the time school starts. Under a new law, seventh- through 12th-grade students at Mountain View schools, along with the rest of California, must prove that they have received a pertussis booster shot.

State Assembly Bill 354, which was signed into law in September 2010 by Arnold Schwarzenegger, mandates that any student without documentation for the shot will not be allowed to attend school. The requirement applies to seventh- through 12th-graders in 2011-12, but will only apply to seventh-graders in subsequent years. It was passed in response to last year's outbreak of pertussis, commonly called whooping cough.

Officials at both the Mountain View Whisman and Mountain View-Los Altos school districts began working with students and their families as early as January to ensure that the new requirement is met.

About 67 percent of next year's seventh- and eighth-grade students — about 850 children by the latest count — have received whooping cough booster shots, according to Stephanie Totter, director of administrative services with the Mountain View Whisman School District.

In an effort to get ahead of the requirement, a free whooping cough vaccination clinic was held at Graham Middle School at the end of the 2010-11 school year, Totter said. The district is prepared to hold another clinic "depending on the need."

No such clinics are planned for the 3,600 students of the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District. Superintendent Barry Groves said he hopes that the mail and email reminders sent to students and their families will be enough.

"We've been letting people know for a long time and have sent out many reminders," Groves said. While Totter's district plans to take advantage of the state's 30-day grace period, Groves said students at Mountain View, Los Altos and Alta Vista high schools will be turned away on the first day of school unless they can prove they have received the booster shot.

In 2010, California health officials said there was an "epidemic" in reported cases of pertussis, a respiratory disease that causes a severe and long-lasting cough. The disease can be deadly for infants and those with compromised immune systems. Pertussis gets its common name from the whooping sound infected individuals sometimes make as they gasp for breath in the midst of severe coughing spells.

Between Jan. 1, 2010, and April 4, there have been 1,428 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of pertussis reported in California, according to Amy Cornell, health information officer for the county's Public Health Department. Over that same time period there have been 560 confirmed, probable and suspected cases in Santa Clara County — 37 of them were reported in Mountain View.

That was a significant spike for the city, which saw only two cases in 2009. Statewide, 990 cases were reported in 2009.

Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, a health officer for Santa Clara County, said he supports the law.

"It's an important vaccine," Fenstersheib said. "There are always cases of whooping cough, or pertussis. Every year we see a surge."

Laws requiring children to be vaccinated against certain diseases before they enter school are the most effective way to get the vast majority of the population vaccinated, he said. And the more people in a given community that receive a vaccination, the higher immunity that particular community will have against the disease.

Children are already required to be vaccinated against the disease before entering kindergarten. By the time children reach adolescence, though, the initial immunity from the first round of pertussis shots (usually administered during infancy) will have faded, Fenstersheib said.

For those who do not wish their child to receive the booster, the law allows parents to decline the vaccine either for religious reasons or because of personal beliefs. Fenstersheib said he doesn't recommend skipping the shot.

"These are safe vaccines," he said. "I've been around a long time and I've seen periods in history when people have opted out of vaccines in large numbers. Because of that, there was a significant outbreak of whooping cough, and some infants got sick and some died."

Booster shots can be obtained at local pharmacy chains, such as Walgreens and CVS.

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