If the new school year were to begin today, only about one in five middle and high school students in Riverside County would be allowed to attend classes because they lack the proper vaccination against whooping cough, according to an informal survey conducted by county school and health officials.
As of January 7, there were more than 8,300 cases of pertussis (whooping cough) with onset in 2010 reported statewide to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH)—the most reported since 1947, said Mark B. Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health, in a news release.
Assembly Bill 354 was signed into law in September 2010. As a result, students entering or advancing to grades seven through 12 in the 2011–12 school year are required to be immunized with a pertussis vaccine booster called Tetanus Toxoid, Reduced Diphtheria Toxoid and Acellular Pertussis (Tdap).
As early childhood immunization does not provide lasting immunity to pertussis, CDPH recommends a Tdap booster immunization for all persons 10 years of age and older, yet most people have not received the Tdap booster, Horton said.
Riverside County has about 228,120 students between seventh and 12th grades who will need to provide proof of immunization before starting school in the fall. This new requirement applies to all public and private schools.
The Riverside County Department of Public Health, in collaboration with the Riverside County Office of Education, have been working together to bring attention to the issue and get more students vaccinated before the new school year, said Jose Arballo Jr., spokesperson for the Riverside County Department of Public Health.
"According to an informal survey of county school districts, only about 20 percent of those responding reported that students have completed the Tdap immunization requirements for whooping cough. Some reported less than a 10 percent compliance rate," Arballo said.
The survey was released May 24.
Arballo said parents are being urged not to wait for the new school year to begin, since there will be no grace period. Under the new law, students will not be allowed to start school without proof of vaccination.
“With the school year coming to a close, it is a great time to remind parents and guardians about the new rule,” said Dr. Eric Frykman, health officer for Riverside County Community Health Agency. “This way parents can be prepared for the new school year.”
Lake Elsinore Unified School District continues to put out notifications and reminders to parents.
If parents are not sure if their child has had the booster shot, need to get proof, or need to get their child vaccinated, officials are urging a visit to a family doctor or, if they do not have insurance, to make an appointment at one of 10 public health family care centers in Riverside County.
Beginning in the 2012-2013 school year and beyond, this law will only affect incoming seventh-graders.