California mandates whooping cough for school children

According to a new California state law, students from the 7th to 12th grade will be required to receive a pertussis, or whooping cough, booster shot before entering school starting next fall.

Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 354, making California one of the 39 states that require students to be fully inoculated, according to the Los Angeles Times.

California legislators had stalled the bill for many years because of concerns that the state would have to pay for thousands of vaccinations under the Medi-Cal government insurance program.

California is now facing its largest outbreak of pertussis since 1950 and health officials are saying that unvaccinated teens may be a factor in its spread, the Los Angeles Times reports. Data released on October 6 puts the total number of pertussis cases this year in California at 6,613.

Only 43.7 percent of California adolescents were inoculated with the whooping cough vaccine, also known as Tdap, in 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That rate is slightly higher than the 40.8 percent national average, but lower than the rate of states that require the shot.

Booster shots are critical in pertussis prevention because the effects of the original vaccine can fade as early as five years after it is given, the Los Angeles Times reports. Health officials are urging parents to get their teenagers Tdap boosters if they have yet to do so.

The California Department of Public Health has warned that all students entering 7th through 12th grade will have to show proof of immunization before they can start classes in 2011. In 2012, only 7th graders will have to show proof that they have been given Tdap. Parents who have objections to the vaccine on philosophical grounds can apply for exemptions.