Registered Nurse Rubina Andonian administers a flu shot to intern Colleen Thompson at the UCLA Employee Health Center on Wilshire Boulevard on Wednesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITYWIDE — As of the start of school, several hundred Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District students will not have received the state-required vaccine against whooping cough.

The disease reached epidemic proportions in 2010, killing four infants, and prompting lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 354, which made it law for every student entering grades seven through 12 to prove that they’ve received the Tdap vaccine since they turned 7.

That shot covers tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. The last is more commonly known as whooping cough.

According to district Nurse Coordinator Lora Morn, approximately 400 students at Santa Monica High School and 20 at Lincoln Middle School have not yet received their shots.

Malibu High had 500 uncovered students as of last week, but that number may have gone down as a result of a mobile van from Westside Family Clinic that rolled into the school to administer shots for the two days of registration.

It’s unclear how many students that attend John Adams Middle School or Olympic High School have not yet gotten the vaccine.

The Venice Family Clinic, which serves much of the Westside, reported a major increase in the number of vaccines given out compared to previous years.

“We haven’t seen as outrageously busy a rush as we thought we might, but we’ve definitely increased numbers,” said Nursing Supervisor Darcy Miller.

Between Aug. 1 and Aug. 29, 2011, the clinic immunized 544 kids. That’s compared to 82 in the same time period in 2010.

The school district encouraged students to get the shot by threatening to withhold the schedules for students who could not produce documentation of having received the vaccine, or did not get a medical or “personal belief” exemption.

That policy has been suspended because the district decided to give students a 30-day extension, Morn said.

Legislators passed a second law, SB 614, that allowed school districts to give students that extra flexibility to get the shots.

“We’re still requesting that all kids get the vaccine before the first day of school,” Morn said.

According to Dr. Michelle T. Parra, the director of Los Angeles County’s immunization program, whooping cough is a cyclical disease, which saw a major upswing last year with 2,309 reported cases in the county alone.

Of those, 672 were confirmed as pertussis.

“The past year, in 2010, there were more cases than have been seen since the 1940s,” Parra said.

The outbreak resulted in four fatalities, all under the age of 3 months.

The age of the victims is the main reason that the state pushed to have older students immunized, Parra said.

“That’s a perfect example of an age group that are around a lot of younger kids not able to be vaccinated,” Parra said. “They might have younger siblings, who are too young to be vaccinated. If the disease is going around, and there are young kids that are vulnerable, the more people vaccinated around them, the better.”

Doctors call it the “cocooning” effect, she said.

As of Aug. 26, there were 1,017 reported cases of whooping cough, 192 of which have been confirmed.

At this point, it’s unclear how many students opted out using either a medical or personal belief exemption.

According to figures from the county Department of Health, while less than 1 percent of Los Angeles County students exercised the personal belief exemption in 2009, those numbers are much higher in one of the eight “service planning areas” — Santa Monica’s.

Service Planning Area 5, which includes Santa Monica and Malibu, reported a 6.01 percent exemption rate for pre-school age students and 8.62 percent exemption rate for kindergartners.

The next highest rate of 2.85 percent for kindergartners is in Service Planning Area 2, which lies north of Santa Monica and Malibu and includes Agoura Hills to the southwest, La Canada Flintridge to the east and the San Fernando Valley to the north.

Parents should know that they have the ability to opt their child out of the vaccine, said Kim Kovalchik-Ii, the California State director for the National Vaccine Information Center.

Kovalchik-Ii does not describe herself as against vaccines, although she would not choose to vaccinate her child again. What she wants is for parents to be fully informed.

“There are more risks to some people,” Kovalchik-Ii said. “You can’t just shoot everyone up and expect the same outcome.”

Kovalchik-Ii tells parents that they have to take the initiative and educate themselves about the potential dangers, and benefits, of vaccines and make a decision that’s right for their family.

For more information about the potential ramifications of vaccines, parents can visit www.nvic.org.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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