Officials urging parents to vaccinate in California

If it’s not one thing, it’s another. First, officials warn of a potential measles outbreak and now they are saying there is a high risk of a pertussis outbreak, also known as whooping cough. Reports are calling it an epidemic and they are calling on parents to be sure to inoculate their children.

The article published Sunday, June 19th in the Los Angeles Daily News states, “Cases of whooping cough continue to rise this year, prompting state health officials to press parents to get their children inoculated with the pertussis vaccine before the start of the 2011-2012 school session.”

The state has confirmed 1,189 cases for January through April – nearly double the number from the same period last year and 10 times the number from the first quarter of 2009.

“While it is too early to know if this year will reach the same high levels of this debilitating disease, California is currently experiencing more cases than would be typically expected, but fortunately no fatalities,” Dr. Howard Backer, interim Director of the California Department of Public Health, said in a statement.

The state advisory comes just as school districts are scrambling to make sure students comply with a state law that takes effect July 1st. The law requires all students entering the seventh grade and beyond to show proof that their inoculations, including DTaP, are up to date before they attend class.

More than 1 million students across California have yet to be vaccinated, state health officials said. Within the Los Angeles Unified School District, there are nearly 250,000 7-12 graders but only about half can prove they have received their dose of DTaP (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine).

Barbara Woodard-Cox, team leader for the communicable disease control unit at LAUSD, said her team emphasizes the need for nurses, teachers, and principals to urge parents to make sure their children get vaccinated. “We’ve made banners. We’ve made buttons. We’ve made fliers,” Woodard-Cox said. “This is not a pandemic at this point, but this is an epidemic.”

Woodard-Cox also said a few parents have opted out of getting their children vaccinated. Reasons vary from children who have underlying health issues to parents who have personal beliefs against vaccines. Parents who opt out have to sign a special waiver. “The waiver points out in detail the consequences of the illness and if there’s a case in the school, your child may be sent home for three weeks or more because we want to make sure students are safe,” Woodard-Cox said.

Some of the hesitation is caused by parents who fear side effects from vaccines and that’s why local and state agencies need to continue to provide information on the DTaP vaccine.

“I know people are concerned about autism, but there’s no link to autism. Vaccines are safe,” he said. “We’re really hoping people make decisions based on real evidence and the evidence is the pertussis vaccine is very safe and very effective for at least five years.”

Last week there were 24 cases reported in Los Angeles County, although not all have been confirmed, said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

“The numbers are certainly much higher than they should be for a vaccine-preventable disease,” Fielding said.

With the new state advisory, Woodard-Cox said, “Students who don’t have proof of the vaccination will not be allowed to sit in class.”

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