SMMUSD HDQTRS — School nurses will be working overtime to examine the medical records of almost 5,000 students to find out whether or not each has received a required whooping cough vaccine before the start of the next school year.
A new state law, which will come into effect July 1, mandates that all students entering seventh through 12th grades must show proof that they have received the Tdap vaccine, which covers tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, since they turned 7 years old.
If they can’t demonstrate that they’ve been immunized, students must get the shot and return with documentation before they’re given their school schedules.
Long story short, without the vaccine, students will not be allowed to attend class.
Parents are allowed to request an exemption for personal and religious beliefs, or because of a medical condition, which must be documented by a physician, district officials said.
“It’s going to be awful for us,” said Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Nurse Coordinator Lora Morn.
The nurses have to go through every record on file to see if each student got the Tdap vaccine after their seventh birthday, but mostly they will have to rely on parents bringing in immunization records, Morn said.
Children receive the first five-round set of immunizations — called DTaP — starting at 2 months and ending between ages 4 and 6, according to an informational bulletin put out by the California Department of Public Health.
They are supposed to get a Tdap booster by age 11.
Many won’t have it, Morn said.
The school district will be working hard to get the word out now to minimize the possible impacts at the beginning of next year, Morn said, but efforts are hampered by one key point.
“The unfortunate thing for us is that the law doesn’t go into effect until July 1,” Morn said. “We cannot tell them that they must have (the shot).”
The push to vaccinate is the result of a whooping cough epidemic that claimed the lives of 10 California infants in 2010.
That year, the state legislature passed Assembly Bill AB 354, authored by then-Assemblyman Juan Arambula, which made it a state-mandated requirement to show proof of vaccination between grades seven through 12.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease that’s spread through coughs and sneezes.
For the first one or two weeks, patients get a runny nose, low-grade fever and mild cough.
For up to 10 weeks after that, patients experience fits of rapid coughs followed by a distinctive “whoop” noise. The severity of the coughing can cause weakness and vomiting.
Recovery progresses gradually after that for the next two or three weeks.
Preliminary figures show that there were 8,383 reported cases of whooping cough in 2010, the highest since a 1947 spike that reached 9,394 reported cases.
There were 1,352 reported cases in Los Angeles County alone, according to the preliminary report.
Final case counts are expected in spring of this year.
Health professionals are pushing to get teenagers vaccinated because their resistance to the disease will deteriorate without the Tdap booster shot, said Dr. Karen Lamp, medical director of the Venice Family Clinic.
Once their resistance is lowered, they could contract the disease and become contagious, which threatens two vulnerable populations — infants and older adults.
“Infants start getting vaccinated at two months, but they’re not fully protected until after six months,” Lamp said. “It’s the two to three-month-old baby that’s vulnerable.”
Healthy adolescents and adults that contract the disease might not show severe symptoms, but could still be a health hazard to infants and seniors.
Vaccines will be available through family doctors and some pharmacies. The Venice Family Clinic will give free Tdap shots to those that qualify, as will the Westside Family Health Center.
Free vaccines, through the federal government, will also be available for students at the Santa Monica High School campus clinic.