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L.A. Unified takes new tack on whooping cough vaccine

As nurses use up their supply, the district decides to let unimmunized middle and high school students stay in school until more doses arrive if they return consent forms.

July 07, 2011|By Howard Blume and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times
  • L.A. Unified nurse Mija Goldsmith administers a whooping cough shot to 15-year-old Christine Jauregui on Wednesday at Huntington Park High School.
L.A. Unified nurse Mija Goldsmith administers a whooping cough shot to… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles school nurses on Wednesday exhausted their entire supply of 600 doses of thewhoopingcoughvaccine on students who began their academic year this week at area campuses that are on a year-round schedule.

But officials came up with a new strategy that they hope will keep hundreds of students in class. If students return signed consent forms from parents or guardians, they can remain in school until the school district receives more vaccine doses, said Kimberly Uyeda, the district's director of student medical services.

The vaccine, which comes in the form of the Tdap booster shot, is mandatory for students in grades seven through 12 under a state law that was approved last fall and took effect July 1. Without it, students wouldn't be allowed to remain in school, unless they applied for an exemption related to personal beliefs.

Photos: Whooping cough vaccine

More than half of the 8,700 Los Angeles-area students who began school Tuesday either hadn't obtained the vaccine or couldn't verify that they had. The situation at Huntington Park High was the worst, with 76% of the 2,420 students not cleared for the vaccine.

The other schools opening Tuesday in the L.A. Unified School District were Fremont High School in South Los Angeles, Bell High School, Gage Middle School in Huntington Park and Ochoa Learning Center in Cudahy.

In the fall, when most district schools open, more than 250,000 students will need to have been vaccinated.

The district has ordered 8,000 doses of Tdap—for tetanus, diphtheria andpertussis, or whooping cough—through a federal program that provides free vaccines for the uninsured and those enrolled in state-subsidized medical care, Uyeda said. Nearly all students at the year-round schools would qualify.

In addition, county health workers vaccinated about 135 students at Fremont on Tuesday and will return Thursday. The district dispatched 23 extra nurses to affected schools to review vaccination records on Tuesday. By Wednesday, they also were giving shots.

L.A. Unified is not alone in trying to get the word out.

In Riverside County, the Murrieta Valley, Hemet and Corona-Norco school districts required parents to provide proof that they had vaccinated their child or obtained an exemption before they could receive their child's class schedule, said Ken August, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health.

In Stockton, some schools promoted vaccination at school dances and other events.

In Fresno, the Central Unified School District began working with parents to immunize students in May and recently reported an 80% vaccination rate, August said.

"We know that parents are very busy, and we have been concerned that some may not make time to have their child vaccinated until right before school starts," August said. "We really want parents to understand they should not wait."

Last year's epidemic of whooping cough was the largest to hit the state in decades, and health officials said unimmunized teenagers were a factor in the disease's spread.

Photos: Whooping cough vaccine

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