Booster required for incoming middle and high school students

Before they can go back to school on Aug. 30, students in the Berkeley Unified School District must be vaccinated against whooping cough, in accordance with a new state law passed last year.

Following a jump in the number of whooping cough cases over the past few years, a new California immunization law will seek to reduce the spread of this illness by requiring incoming middle and high school students to get a booster shot before starting school.

According to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 17,000 reported cases of whooping cough nationwide last year alone — with 26 of these cases resulting in death. Though incoming seventh to 12th grade students are now required by law to have proof of a “Tdap” shot, the state also now recommends students above the age of 10 are vaccinated.

Most children receive a DTap vaccination prior to entering kindergarten, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis — the scientific name for whooping cough. But because immunity to pertussis fades over time, the Tdap booster shot ensures that older students are still immune.

Whooping cough is a contagious bacterial disease that can last for months. Because this disease peaks in late summer and can be deadly in babies and young children, the Tdap shot is especially important for incoming students.

In Berkeley, there were 18 cases of whooping cough reported last year, and in Alameda County, a total of 422 cases. A table of the up-to-date immunization rates for kindergarteners in Berkeley schools in 2010 can be found here.

Parents can contact their health care provider to get the Tdap shots. Locally, Tdap shots are $17 at the Public Health Clinic on University Avenue in Berkeley until Sept. 1, though no one will be turned away because of financial difficulties, according the clinic’s website.

Students without documentation for the Tdap shot will not be allowed to go to school. However, parents and guardians can sign a personal belief exemption from immunization requirements if the immunization is contrary to their beliefs.

In the 2012-2013 school year, the Tdap requirement will only apply to incoming seventh graders.