A SFUSD student gets a Tdap booster at a free vaccine clinic at Roosevelt Middle School, San Francisco, in March of 2011

To reduce the risk of a whooping cough outbreak, San Francisco’s health department in concert with the school district is offering free vaccinations Tuesday to 7th graders who haven’t yet received a booster shot.

The booster shots are being given to help keep San Francisco students healthy and in compliance with a 2011 state law requiring all California students to have the Tdap booster shots, said Lisa Hedden, acting director of the Communicable Disease Prevention unit at the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

The push to give booster shots to pre-teens in the city is intended to prevent a repeat of a statewide 2010 whooping cough outbreak that sickened more than 9,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA.

Whooping Cough is a contagious bacterial infection that leaves individuals with a whoop-like cough that makes it hard to catch their breath, said Dr. Jaime Ruiz a pediatrician who works at the Mission Neighborhood Health Center at 16th and Shotwell streets.

“Those that are most susceptible to the disease are under 2 years old,” said Ruiz. While rarely deadly to healthy young adults, it can be lethal to infants and the elderly. Tdap is a combination shot that prevents against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (the medical term for whooping cough). As of September 5, students without proof of Tdap immunization are not allowed to come to school until they obtain such proof, said Hedden.

The free shots will be available for kids at the San Francisco Unified School District’s Student, Family and Community Support Department, located at 1515 Quintara Street in the Sunset District. All students need to be accompanied by an adult in order to receive vaccinations, said Hedden. Immunization records are also helpful, she said, but not mandatory. The law requiring all 7th graders to receive Tdap immunization was passed in 2011 in response to the epidemic of whooping cough in California said Kathleen Harriman, chief of the California Department of Public Health’s Vaccine Preventable Disease Epidemiology Section.

“Most other states already had such mandates so we were a little bit behind,” said Harriman.

“Even though the mortality rate isn’t as high for the older population because they have bigger and stronger immune systems, it is still important for them to get vaccinated to help protect them from spreading it to the younger population,” said Ruiz. So far this year Dr. Ruiz said he hasn’t seen any cases of pertussis at his clinic.

The most recent numbers from the San Francisco Department of Public Health show only 10 reported cases of whooping cough within city limits as of September 5th of this year. Most whooping cough deaths occur in infants under 3 months of age, said Hedden. This is because babies aren’t scheduled to get their first Dtap shot until they are 2 months old. During the 2010 epidemic all deaths from pertussis involved children under 3 months old, said Hedden.

After the initial shot, children should get the vaccine at 4 to 6 months, and then again between 12 and 15 months. Kids should receive additional booster shots at 6 years old and again at 11 to 12 — or in California before a preteen begins 7th grade, said Hedden.

“Ideally we wanted kids going to their doctor to get their shot as well as getting a more comprehensive exam and other age appropriate immunizations, along with a well-child checkup,” said Hedden.

Right now San Francisco is considered to be in 100 percent compliance with the law requiring 7th graders to be vaccinated, with 99 percent of the students having proof of the Tdap vaccination and 1 percent of students having obtained a personal beliefs exemption. While some other nearby states like Washington have declared whooping cough, epidemics California has only 521 cases with zero deaths this year said Harriman, in stark contrast with the 2010 state epidemic of more than 9,000 cases. “It is clear that we are having a very mild year for pertussis,” said Harriman.

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