California is experiencing what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider the worst epidemic of whooping cough in 60 years. A new state law requires seventh through 12th grade students to get a booster shot — also referred to as the Tdap booster vaccine — before starting school next fall, or prove they already have.
Pertussis, often referred to as whooping cough, causes coughing spells so bad that it is hard for infants to eat, drink, or breathe. These spells can last for weeks, and can lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, and death.
In 2010, there were more cases of pertussis reported in California than in any other year since 1947. In L.A. County alone, cases of pertussis increased by more than five times, with 920 confirmed cases in 2010, compared to 156 in 2009. The disease also claimed the lives of four infants last year, whereas the county typically experiences one or no fatalities per year.
“Vaccines save thousands of lives each year and are the best way to protect your children and the community against serious diseases such as influenza, measles, polio, and whooping cough (pertussis). Choosing not to vaccinate your children can have serious consequences,” said Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, director of public health and health officer. “We encourage everyone to talk to their doctor about the right vaccines for their children and themselves.”
The Tdap vaccine not only protects children against whooping cough, but also against diphtheria and tetanus. DTaP, Td and DT do not meet the school requirement. Parents are encouraged to check with their child’s physician or clinic and seek the correct Tdap vaccine before their child starts seventh grade. The diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine (DTaP) can help prevent this disease and is given in five doses at two months, four months, six months, 15 to 18 months, and again between four and six years of age.
“Most children receive vaccines that protect them from whooping cough in early childhood, but the booster is necessary to maintain the protection through the teenage years,” said Wilbert Mason, a pediatric infectious disease doctor at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “In order for kids to be healthy and free of serious childhood illnesses, they need to get all of their recommended vaccinations. This requirement will protect California’s teens and their families from whooping cough and provide a chance for teens to get caught up with all recommended vaccinations.”
The new state law will take effect on July 1, 2011. All students entering seventh through 12th grades for the 2011-2012 school year must provide proof that they received a Tdap booster vaccine on, or after, their seventh birthday. In subsequent school years, only students entering into seventh grade will need proof of a Tdap dose to start school.
“Avoid the back-to-school rush, and make sure your children are protected right away,” said Fielding. “Call your doctor or your primary health care provider to make an appointment as soon as possible, and avoid delays in starting school.”
For more information on the “Stay Healthy. Vaccinate.” campaign or on Tdap and other recommended vaccines, visit vaccinateLA.com