Free Vaccine clinic at Roosevelt Middle School, San Francisco

For the first time next fall, all California middle- and high-school students will have to prove they’ve been vaccinated against whooping cough. To ensure access, San Francisco’s Department of Public Health is hosting a series of clinics this spring that will provide the vaccine for free. Typically it costs about $70 in a pharmacy.

Under California law, a parent or guardian may have a child exempted from required immunizations if immunization is contrary to their beliefs or if the child has a written exemption from a doctor. Parents can pick up exemption forms at their child’s school.

Ideally, kids should go to their health care providers for the vaccinations, said Lisa Hedden of DPH’s Communicable Disease and Prevention Unit. The free clinics are a safety net for those without access to a provider.

There are an estimated 30,000 students between the ages of 12 and 17 in San Francisco, and the city is trying to get the word out via schools, mail and community organizations.

The first free clinic was held at Roosevelt Middle School on March 20; the next is scheduled for May 14 at John O’Connell High School in the Mission.

The California Department of Public Health also runs a free immunization program, Vaccines for Children, which provides free vaccines for kids who are eligible for Medicaid or are under- or uninsured.

The clinics were planned after California passed a law in September requiring all students to be vaccinated against the illness, also called pertussis. Before the legislation was approved, California was one of only a few states without such a law, according to Hedden.

Although vaccinations are the best defense against the disease, their effects do wear off over time. Many people never get the booster required to maintain immunity — one possible explanation for last year’s whooping cough epidemic in California.

In 2010, the state recorded more than 8,300 cases of pertussis, mostly in infants less than three months of age, who had not yet received the vaccine.

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial illness spread by coughs and sneezes. People with pertussis have severe coughing attacks that can last for months. It’s not pleasant — the whooping sound that occurs with the cough is the result of frantic attempts to draw breath. Some patients cough so hard that they black out.

For adults, the illness eventually passes. In infants it can be fatal. Ten infants died during the most recent outbreak. Nine of them were Latino; public health officials have no medical explanation for the racial disparity.

The new vaccine law goes into effect on July 1 and applies to students in all public, private and charter schools. In 2011, all students in grades 7 through 12 will have to show proof of vaccination. But from 2012 on, only students advancing or entering the 7th grade will be required to show proof.

“It’s catch-up,” said Janet Zola, another organizer at the vaccination clinic.

Babies cannot be vaccinated against pertussis until they are six weeks old. In the United States, the vaccines are usually given in a combination vaccine called the DTaP, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Children usually require a series of five shots up to the ages of four to six years. A booster TDaP has been available for adolescents and adults since 2005.

By early afternoon at Roosevelt Middle School on March 20, only about 200 shots had been administered. “The biggest challenge is making people aware,” said Hedden.

Another obstacle is finding funds for the vaccines in the face of the state’s massive budget deficit. The organizers brought 3,000 doses with them, paid for by federal funds set aside for emergency response planning.

Students from all over the Bay Area came to get their vaccine.

For more information about the new immunization law and free vaccine clinics, visit

Follow Us

Inspired by her father, Mallika Menon ended up in the Mission District pursuing a career in journalism production. Her first impression of the Mission was that the predominant Hispanic community resembles the Indian community back in Delhi. Menon never visited the Mission before, but she knows she will enjoy it.

Join the Conversation


Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Thank you for editing the article. The personal beliefs exemption form for this particular vaccine requirement is called CDPH 8261. “Advanced” vaccine refusers (parents who are prepared to fight for their rights under the law) should know that they are not required by law to sign any particular form. So if they do not agree with the wording on that form, they can simply write and sign their own statement that the vaccine is against their “personal beliefs.” (CA Health and Safety Code Section 120365) Be prepared for a fight with uninformed school staff, however.

  2. Thank you for all of your comments and concerns.

    The story has been updated with the immunization exemption options available under California law.

  3. In order to be a legitimate news source, you must be honest with people. To be honest with people, you must provide complete information. Leaving out crucial info, such as the fact that parents can easily exempt their children from vaccines, is misleading and dishonest. Have integrity. Edit your article and resubmit it to the public, letting them know of their legal right to refuse.

  4. The public also needs to be notified that the vaccine does not cause immunity from pertussis (whooping cough). Pertussis is spread by bacteria, not a virus and is not “prevented” by vaccination. The vaccine only prevents the vaccinated person’s immune system from functioning as it should so that when the person gets pertussis, and just about anyone will, it will only present as cold symptoms and go undiagnosed without the resulting cough. Sorry, not a fan of shutting down children’s immune systems.

  5. I am curious why you write it is the law for them to get this shot, yet after searching hard one will find in your site that there are “personal belief” and “md” exceptions. Mercury and formaldehyde are not safe for injection by many standards, and the only studies that say shots work are done by the companies that make them. Synthetic over the counter and prescriptions drugs, Animal products, and junk food cause people to get sick, not bugs. Thank you for your concern

  6. From the CDC website linked in your article: “Children who cannot prove vaccination OR EXEMPTION STATUS will not be allowed school entry” (emphasis added).

    Please present ALL sides of the story–there is NO law in California that forces parents to have their children vaccinated. Parents have a right to choose what is best for their own children.

  7. Please report on the options parents have who prefer not to have their children force-vaccinated.
    The reasons for refusing vaccines are many, but the primary risk is from a mercury-laden preservative named thimerisol. It’s been linked to many developmental delays including autism in vaccinated children.

    1. I love how I was told my child had to be vaccinated prior to school enry…that is when I simply turned over their vac form and signed my name to exempt my child. Done. I also exempted from TB and the “mandatory dental exam” they were trying to force me to get for entry…right on the backside of the CA vacc form is the exemption line…that no one will inform you of!