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Whooping cough booster to be required for middle, high school students

October 6, 2010 |  7:00 am

Next fall, 7th- through 12th grade students in California will be required to receive a whooping cough booster shot before starting school under a state law, health officials said Tuesday. 

Before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 354 last week, California had been one of only 11 states that did not require middle school students to receive a booster shot against whooping cough, or pertussis. The legislation had been stalled for several years amid concerns that California would have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for vaccinations for children on Medi-Cal, the government insurance program for the poor. 

But unimmunized teens have been a factor in the spread of disease, which has infected more than 4,400 people in California so far this year, the highest number of cases reported in the state since 1955. Studies show that undiagnosed family members are most likely to infect infants with whooping cough. Most vulnerable to whooping cough are infants too young to be immunized; nine babies, all less than three months old, have died so far this year in California.

Just 43.7% of California adolescents had the vaccine for whooping cough, known as Tdap, in 2008, according to the CDC. That rate exceeded the national average of 40.8%, but was lower than some states that require the shot for their middle school students. 

Booster shots are important for adolescents and adults because immunity to the bacterial disease can begin to fade as early as five years after receiving an inoculation. Dr. Helene Calvet, the Long Beach health officer, urged parents to take action to get their teenagers Tdap booster shots if they haven’t already done so.

“There is a statewide epidemic, and it's starting to affect our students,” Calvet said in a statement. 

According to the California Department of Public Health, all students entering 7th through the 12th grades will have to show proof of a Tdap booster shot before starting school in the fall of 2011. They should receive the Tdap shot on or after the 10th birthday, and is required for both public and private schools. 

For the 2012 school year, only 7th graders will have to show proof of a Tdap booster shot before the fall semester. Students who are allergic to the vaccine or whose parents express a philosophical objection to inoculations can seek an exemption from the vaccine requirement. 

Learn more about the state’s announcement of new whooping cough requirements: Early alert to healthcare providers 

AB 354 was written by Assemblymen Juan Arambula (unaffiliated-Fresno) and Nathan Fletcher (R-San Diego).

-- Rong-Gong Lin II