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Officials asking students to get vaccine sooner rather than later

Pertussis can be deadly to infants, nurse says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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After low turnout at Auburn area clinics and doctors’ offices, local health officials are urging parents to have their children get a required immunization as soon as possible. In February 2009 the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 354. The law states that all seventh-12th grade students in the state enrolled in the 2011/2012 school year are required to get the Tdap vaccination before starting classes. Tdap is a booster vaccine that protects older children, adolescents and adults from pertussis, also called whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria, according to the Placer Union High School District website. Beginning in the 2012/2013 school year, only seventh-graders will be required to show they have had a Tdap booster shot. Laura Van Auker, a nurse with Placer Union High School District and Sutter nurse practitioner, said last week only 30 percent of high school students signed up for next year have turned in the documentation saying they have received the shot. “Part of the frustration is our district, in trying to get compliance, we sent out 1,000 letters to families who were eligible for a free vaccine,” Van Auker said. “We did five on-site clinics for families who would get a free vaccine. We tried to get the word out through phone calls, Internet, every possible way we could get information out to people.” According to Willi Bailey, registrar for Placer High School, as of last week 630 students had turned in documentation of the vaccine out of the school’s 1,369 students enrolled for next school year, leaving 739 students still needing to submit documentation. “We are talking about a catastrophic event the first day of school,” Van Auker said. Bailey said Peter Efstathiu, principal at Placer High School, was putting a plan into action in case a number of students still hadn’t turned in their documentation by the first day of school. Efstathiu was unavailable for comment about the plan. Dave Horsey, superintendent of Placer Union High School District, was also unavailable for comment on any potential district-wide plan. Kelly Frechou, a licensed vocational nurse with Sutter Medical Foundation Pediatrics in Auburn, said she hasn’t seen a large number of students coming in for the shot during vaccination clinics. “We have seen a steady stream, but I would say that it hasn’t been as many students as we expected,” Frechou said. “We were anticipating kind of a rush and we haven’t seen that yet. It’s just been kind of a slow trickle of patients coming in.” Frechou said in between her schedule and the schedules of the providers at Sutter Pediatrics, about 10-20 patients come in for the shot per week. Madalyn Wyatt, a registered nurse with Sutter Medical Foundation Pediatrics in Auburn, said there is another reason why teens should be getting the shot besides the state requirement. “One of the main reasons this shot was developed for teenagers and adults, which in the past it wasn’t available, is our immunity wanes,” Wyatt said. “Even if you have had pertussis in the past, it’s been found a lot of adults and teens are getting it and passing it along to newborns, which is extremely dangerous.” Pertussis, which causes fits of coughing, can be incredibly painful for adults, but deadly for infants, Wyatt said. Wyatt said she had pertussis and was out of work for six weeks. “I was miserable and had black and blue ribs from coughing so hard, but for a baby it can be deadly.” Frechou said there were more pertussis cases last year than in the last 50 years. Both Wyatt and Frechou said they are concerned that some parents will sign waivers for their children to not have to get the shot simply so they won’t be inconvenienced by having to go in and get the vaccine. Some aren’t able to get the shot for religious or personal beliefs or physical reasons, Frechou said. “There are people in society in the community that can’t get vaccines … which makes it even more important for those of us who can get vaccines to immunize ourselves in order to protect that larger population,” she said. Wyatt and Frechou urged parents to bring their children in as soon as possible and not wait until right before school starts. Dr. Mark Starr, director of Community Health and Clinics for Placer County, said the county has been doing what it can to work with schools to get the word out about the vaccine, including holding some on-site clinics in some districts. “The schools are very adept at getting information out,” Starr said. “We did this with the H1N1 flu many times in the past where we describe what information can go out and they post it on their websites and they do these automated calls home. So we are using the established methods the schools have to communicate with parents, which is the best way to target that audience.” Starr said the county may hold additional clinics later on in the summer depending on how the demand for the vaccine is. Starr said he recommends parents take their children to the health care providers for the shot, because teens could also benefit from having adolescent checkups when visiting their physicians. Parents should not count on all schools holding shot clinics right before school starts, Starr said. “None of them could handle all the kids that might need it at that time,” he said. “We would prefer people don’t count on that because probably not many schools will do it, they just don’t have the resources to put it together.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com