Education Matters: Many La Jolla teens still need whooping cough booster
By Marsha Sutton
As students in the San Diego Unified School District prepare to return to school on Sept. 6, a new requirement for admittance still needs to be met by about one-third of the district’s 60,000 seventh- to 12th-graders, according to the latest information from local officials. Assembly Bill 354, signed into law September 2010, requires all incoming students in grades 7-12 to show proof of having received the Tdap whooping cough booster shot by the start of the 2011-2012 school year. Acceptable proof is a copy of immunization records or a note from the student’s doctor.
As of Aug. 18, about 21,000 SDUSD students still need to show proof.
At La Jolla High School, 335 students out of a total enrollment of about 1,650 have not met the requirement, although these figures do not reflect students registering for school in the past two weeks who may have recently submitted their booster documentation.
At Muirlands Middle School, 541 students have not met the requirement. The school’s total enrollment is about 1,100 for grades 6-8, or about 370 per grade. Only students in middle school entering seventh and eighth grades are required to receive the Tdap booster, which means 541 students out of about 740 still need to show proof.
Numbers still changing
SDUSD communications director Linda Zintz said these numbers for both La Jolla schools are the latest official numbers but are not quite up to date, with nurses processing Tdap paperwork daily.
She said the news has been widely disseminated to parents, beginning last spring, through emails, newsletters, school Web sites, the district Web site, school marquees, automated robo-calls and other methods of communication. Another round of e-mails and telephone calls is planned for this week, to all the remaining students who have not yet met the requirement.
“We’re letting them know about the new law and what their responsibility is and when it’s going to take effect,” Zintz said.
Although parents are being told that students need proof of the booster by the start of school, passage of a second bill, Senate Bill 614, grants districts the option to extend the deadline for 30 more days from the first day of school, making the actual deadline in SDUSD Oct. 6.
“They do have the 30-day option, but our message is for them not to wait, to do it now,” Zintz said. “We all understand it’s human nature to put things off, so we don’t want parents to wait until October 5 to take care of it.” Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, has encouraged parents to vaccinate their children as soon as possible, to avoid long lines and difficulty getting appointments at the last minute.
Zintz said significant progress is being made during these final weeks of registration, noting a marked increase in the required paperwork as the start of school draws closer.
Students would not be able to attend school, Zintz said, if by Oct. 6 they still do not have proof of receiving the Tdap, a letter from their doctor, or a waiver.
“The law says those students would have to be excluded from school,” she said. “Our message is, ‘This is the law. You need to do it.’ Our goal is to have 100 percent compliance when we hit October 6.”
Booster by age 7
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is particularly serious in children. In recent years, whooping cough has been increasing in the United States. In 2010, whooping cough was epidemic in California, with 1,144 cases reported in San Diego County. In 2011, 326 cases have been reported so far to the county Health and Human Services Agency.
Having had whooping cough does not protect children against future infection, so a booster shot is still required, according to authorities. Waivers are available for parents who for personal beliefs choose not to immunize their children with the Tdap booster.
Zintz said very few parents are opting out of the booster, less than 200 out of the 40,000 received as of Aug. 18. She said the personal belief statement is specific to the Tdap; prior opt-out forms submitted at kindergarten or in later grades do not apply.
Any child who has received the Tdap booster shot at age 7 or later will be considered to have met the requirement. Documentation submitted to the schools is still necessary.
“What we’re discovering is that there are parents who have had their students immunized but they just haven’t provided us with the documentation,” she said. “Not only does the law require that you have your child immunized, but then you must show proof of that to your school.”
The law applies to students in grades 7-12 in both public and private schools and impacts about 230,000 San Diego County middle and high school students.
“In our messages we provide families with information on where … they can get the vaccine,” Zintz said, which includes private physicians, pharmacies, community clinics and county health centers.
She said the district can refer cash-strapped families to clinics that do not charge or charge on a sliding scale. The district is also working to identify pockets of school communities where clinics could be set up to provide the booster.
“Schools are committed to doing everything they can to protect the safety and well-being of all students,” said SDUSD superintendent Bill Kowba, in a statement on the district’s Web site. “While parents will have up to 30 days to meet the Tdap requirement once classes begin, we recommend they vaccinate their children now to avoid any class disruptions.”
The district’s Web site at www.sandi.net has the latest information.
San Diego Immunization Program Web site at www.sdiz.org offers links to resources and services for the Tdap and other vaccinations.
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