New Law Requires Pertussis Vaccine For Older Children

Law Says Every Student Entering 7th Through 12th Grade Must Have Shot For Whooping Cough

A new law may prevent older children from attending school if they are not vaccinated against whooping cough.

County officials are expressing growing concern over the spread of whooping cough – also known as pertussis – which is at epidemic levels not seen since 60 years.

"We've got a lot of work to do," said Dr. Randy Ward, the County Superintendent of Schools, who was referring to new legislation that would take effect on July 1.

Those new laws would mandate that every student in the state entering 7th through 12th grade must have a booster shot for whooping cough. That means 236,000 local students must comply or they can't attend school in the fall.

According to the county, only half of those 236,000 students have had the pertussis booster shot.

"No proof, no school," cautioned Wards.

Last year, 10 newborns died in California from whooping cough. Two of the 10 died in San Diego. Both of those deaths were infants under the age of two months.

However, questions were raised over the vaccine's effectiveness and why pediatricians say the vaccinations should begin at such a young age.

"The immunizations are only 80 percent effective but that's why we give it to children at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 18 months and 5 years," said Dr. Philip Szold, a pediatrician in La Mesa.

Now, according to the state, children as young as 12 years old must have the vaccine.

However, in 10 California counties, including San Diego, between 44 and 83 percent of those diagnosed with whooping cough had actually been immunized. Some families say they will decline the vaccination and file a personal belief exemption form with the school instead.

As 10News first reported in a joint investigation with KPBS, government scientists in Amsterdam discovered almost two decades ago that the pertussis bacteria had mutated to where the bacteria started to produce more of the pertussis toxin. That discovery led some scientists to believe that the new generation of vaccines may not be as effective.

10News asked San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten if she believes the current vaccination is strong enough.

"It's not a matter of what I believe, it's a matter of what the science shows," said Wooten. "Right now, the science shows that it's about 80 to 85 percent effective. It's the best that we have right now."

If families do not have insurance for the booster shots, all of the county-operated clinics have immunizations available for $10, according to Wooten.

For those locations, San Diegans can call 211.

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