Students urged to get pertussis shots early

COSTA MESA — With a month until school starts, about 43% of Newport-Mesa Unified middle- and high-school students have yet to provide verification that they have been inoculated against whooping cough, data show.

Although the state gave a 30-day extension on a new law that requires students from grades 7-12 to be immunized before school starts, district officials have urged families not to wait.

"We'd rather they do it now, so it's not a rush," said district spokeswoman Laura Boss, later adding, "We just obviously want to make sure our families are aware of this so no family misses out on any days [of school] after the 30-day extension expires."

Whooping cough — the common name for pertussis — caused an epidemic in California last year, with the highest number of cases reported in 95 years, said Barbara Miller, past president of the California School Nurses Organization.

At least 10 infants died and more than 11,000 people fell ill, causing the state to require students to get the Tdap booster shot to vaccinate them against whooping cough.

Media reports have highlighted some parents' fear that immunizations cause autism, but studies have disproved that theory, according to the American Academy of Pediactrics website.

Parents should know the Tdap booster is safe too, Miller said.

"This vaccine has been researched to the 'nth degree and has proven to be a safe vaccine," Miller said.

The highly contagious disease is most dangerous to infants and the elderly, but adolescents and adults can still catch it, Miller said.

Whooping cough can keep an infected student out of school for months, said Merry Grasska, the school district's Health Services coordinator.

Newport-Mesa Unified had one suspected, but unconfirmed, pertussis case last year, Grasska said.

About 5,600, or 57%, of Newport-Mesa students who fall under the requirement have verified with the district that they have been vaccinated against pertussis.

It's difficult to tell how many students actually are vaccinated, because district data only accounts for those who have verified it, Grasska said.

Costa Mesa Middle School and Costa Mesa High School have the highest rate of immunization — nearly 75% — followed by TeWinkle and Ensign intermediate schools, which are both above 60%.

The alternative high schools, Back Bay and Monte Vista, have the lowest rate: less than 22%. Less than half of Corona del Mar High School has been vaccinated.

Newport Harbor, Early College and Estancia high schools are all slightly above 50%.

The district wants families to get the vaccination before school starts Sept. 6, but still, Grasska said, there has been a good response from families.

"I think we're doing really well," she said. "We've had a really good response rate."

Questions? Concerns?

Contact the district's health services office at (949) 515-6730, or contact the school nurse once school starts. For information on school openings or free clinics, visit

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