At Everett Middle School’s back-to-school night on September 7, San Francisco Unified School District nurse Kathy Ward set up a free clinic to vaccinate students for, among other diseases, whooping cough.
“Anyone else need to be vaccinated? Doing it for free!” Ward remembered yelling down the halls to parents and students throughout the evening. “I have it today but won’t have it tomorrow!”
By the end of the night, Ward had vaccinated 12 students.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot — you reach out to 50, you get 12,” she said. “But you’re like, woohoo!”
Ward’s effort was one of many last-minute clinics set up around the district to vaccinate students against the cough, which so far this year has infected 44 people, mostly toddlers.
The efforts have paid off. The percentage of students in the district who have been immunized or have proof of opting out is around 90 percent, according to SFUSD spokeswoman Heidi Anderson.
“It was 23 percent back in June, so we’re very pleased,” she said.
In the Mission, the numbers hover around the same rate, Anderson said. At Everett Middle School, 96 percent of students have been vaccinated or opted out, while Buena Vista Horace Mann is at 100 percent, John O’Connell High School is at 89 percent and Mission High School is around 95 percent.
Each school will follow up daily with those students who still have no shot or waiver, until they can return to school, Anderson said.
“This will go on until every student has the shot or personal belief form.”
Last September the California State Assembly passed a law requiring all 7th- to 12th-graders to get the Tdap booster, which includes immunization for diptheria, tetanus and whooping cough. On September 14, those who didn’t have the shot were asked to stay home.
San Francisco’s attempts to make sure everyone got the shot started in January and were consistent all year.
“I think we did a great job,” said Lisa Hedden of San Francisco’s Health Department. “It was a great collaborative effort with so many different people involved.”
Whooping cough, medically known as pertussis, is marked by a loud cough with a whooping sound. While not fatal to children and adults, it is deadly for babies. In 2010, the state’s worst whooping cough year since 1947, 10 toddlers under 6 months old died from the disease, according to the California Department of Health.
In the final push to get all of Buena Vista Horace Mann’s students vaccinated, school district nurse Elizabeth Latasa said she spent her first three weeks on the job running around from student to student, tracking down phone numbers and medical records with her signature clipboard in hand.
“I felt like a cross between Nancy Drew and a used car salesman,” Latasa said. “I had to be so tenacious.”
Nurse Judy Rosenfeld set up a clinic at Mission High School’s back-to-school night, where she vaccinated 25 students. She also attended the district-wide vaccination day held at district headquarters on September 14, where about 250 students from around the city got the shot, she said.
“That [clinic] was a really good coordination between school nurses and the Department of Public Health,” she said.
Rosenfeld found that the intense efforts to vaccinate students pointed her to those who don’t have health insurance.
“That’s why they haven’t gotten shots,” she said of the approximately 50 children her team identified as without health coverage. “I can easily help them get insurance.”
Ward, the nurse at Everett Middle School, said that the students she pushed to go to their doctors for the Tdap consequently got other shots and were able to talk about other medical concerns. Even though it was a year of hard work, she said, it paid off.
“It just makes for a healthier community.”