A new California school immunization law takes effect on July 1, requiring all seventh- through 12th-grade students in public and private schools to receive a Tdap vaccination before starting school in the fall. Tdap is a vaccine specifically designed for older children and adults that protects against pertussis (also known as whooping cough). Students who do not provide proof of Tdap vaccination to their school will not be permitted to start school this fall, according to the new law.
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Pertussis is a contagious respiratory infection that can lead to severe coughing fits, hospitalizations and death among vulnerable individuals, particularly infants. The new law was passed in response to the epidemic of pertussis in California last year that resulted in 9,477 cases, hundreds of hospitalizations and 10 infant deaths.
According to Cathy Dunbar, El Dorado County immunization coordinator, the Tdap vaccine is different from the pertussis vaccinations children routinely receive as babies and prior to kindergarten entry.
“Tdap is a booster vaccine given in one dose,” said Dunbar. “The vaccine is meant to complement and boost the series of pertussis vaccinations kids received as babies and preschoolers. Studies have shown that immunity developed from childhood pertussis vaccination starts to wane around adolescence. A large number of pertussis cases last year were among adolescents.”
In addition to pertussis, the Tdap vaccine also protects the body against tetanus and diphtheria.
“We want to encourage parents to get their teens and pre-teens vaccinated now,” said Dunbar. “We would hate to see a child miss school because their parents couldn’t get them vaccinated in time.”
Parents are encouraged to seek out the Tdap vaccine from their health care provider. The El Dorado County Health Services Department, Public Health Division, also offers the Tdap vaccine by appointment at low cost. To schedule a vaccination appointment, call 530-621-6100 in Placerville or 530-573-3155 in South Lake Tahoe.
Parents needing a medical or personal belief exemption from the vaccine may contact their child’s school for the proper form.
“The decision to seek an exemption should not be taken lightly,” said Dunbar. “We ask parents to please carefully consider their decision if they seek an exemption. Children who are not immunized are not only at greater risk for getting sick with pertussis, and spreading it to others, but they could also be excluded from school for an extended period of time if a major outbreak occurs at their school.”
Additional information about Tdap and the new school requirement is also available at edcgov.us/publichealth.