Failure to Vaccinate Keeps Kids from School in California

Mandatory vaccination continues to be a hot-button issue in California with an article in The State Column even suggesting that the 2010 whooping cough vaccination law might be discriminatory. The law requires all kids in grades seven through twelve to either be vaccinated by the start of the 2011-2012 school year or produce a note from their parents explaining their objection to vaccination. In the beginning of this year, the state allowed an additional 30-day delay before the law was put into effect, which means that some schools have begun to turn away kids last week.

NPR reports that the law was passed in response to a whooping cough epidemic last year that sickened more than 9000 and killed 10 babies.

Pertussis causes a violent cough that can last for weeks, and can be deadly in babies too young to get vaccinated. Because it spreads easily in schools, and because the protection that children get from pertussis shots in early childhood wears off, health officials vaccinate older children to help halt spread of the disease.

Before the beginning of this year, there were about 3 million children in California who have yet to be vaccinated. The medical community is using all means of communication at its disposal, including social media like Twitter and Facebook, in order to reach kids and their families. Sometimes, though, it’s the the most old-fashioned methods that succeed best:

Jeanette Restauro of Fairfield, Calif., got four different reminders to get her 11-year-old daughter vaccinated. “The first time I got the information was through my daughter’s backpack,” she says. “Then a few weeks later they did it again, then once on the email and once in a phone recording.” That worked: Restauro took Alyssa in to get the shot.

Although vaccination rates are high at some California districts, in others, as many as half the students remain unvaccinated. Schools are trying to make it as easy as possible for children to get their shots. San Fransisco Unified School District, where only 10% of students are currently excluded from classes due to the law, held a free clinic in the district offices last week. Schools in the district were also offering shots in their campuses.

Unvaccinated students may attend school, but are sequestered in the school gym, separated from their peers. Their attendance does not count toward district attendance, so the schools lose money having these unvaccinated students sequestered in the gym.