Back-to-school season is quickly approaching, which means new subjects, supplies and shots for many Lemon Grove students.
Beginning July 1, students entering grades 7-12 in California need to prove they are fully immunized against pertussis, also known as whooping cough.
“Pertussis can be a very serious health concern,” said Superintendent Ernie Anastos. “It’s particularly dangerous for younger babies. If there is an opportunity to reduce its presence at the middle school level, it actually reduces its prevalence throughout the community.”
Last week, the legislature passed a bill allowing schools to enroll students for up to 30 days, even if they are not up-to-date with their whooping cough vaccinations. Authored by Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, the legislation allows schools to conditionally enroll students for up to 30 days while their vaccination records are analyzed.
“That’s very helpful to us, because it originally looked like we were going to not allow students to enter school,” Anastos said.
As of July 13, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency reported that there have been 280 cases of pertussis this year.
“The reason I think it’s being required now is because of what seems to be some emerging numbers, in terms of students, who have had whooping cough throughout the state,” Anastos said.
Still, there were just three whooping cough cases reported in the Lemon Grove School District last school year, Anastos said. He added that the district—which he said is smaller than other districts in the county—also remained “very healthy” during the H1N1 flu virus pandemic in 2009.
“I don’t know that there is any real rhythm or reason to ultimately which kids become exposed and develop whooping cough,” Anastos said. “We’ve been pretty fortunate.”
The district began notifying families in the spring, Anastos said, by phone calls and an announcement on the district’s website. Parents will also receive information about the Tdap booster vaccine in summer mailings.
The district is offering a vaccination clinic beginning at 10 a.m. on Thursday at . There will be 100 free shots available to district students accompanied by their parents.
Although the district has notified families about the new requirement, Anastos said not many families have brought in records.
“That’s typical,” he said. “Most families get those things organized to bring back at the beginning of the new school year.”
The district also hasn’t received any waiver requests, but medical and personal belief waivers are available, Anastos said.
“I feel strongly these exemptions to immunizations shouldn’t be taken because of convenience,” Anastos said. “By that, I mean hopefully the parents and families are seriously considering the health ramifications of immunizations.”
“Unimmunized students are at a greater risk of contracting the disease and spreading it to their families, school and the community. We really want to make sure that people who want to exercise a personal belief exemption have done so mindfully."
Pertussis usually begins with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, followed by weeks to months of coughing fits that sometimes end with a whooping sound.
“I just think that the important thing is that every family keeps abreast of emerging health issues, and hopefully, in this instance, takes advantage of the opportunity to have their student immunized this summer so that they can come back to school ready to learn,” Anastos said.