Vaccination rates on the rise as students return to schoolBy: Dr. Robert Oldham
The sounds of whooping cough are unmistakable: harsh hacking and high-pitched gasps for air. And when it’s your young child that’s sick, it can mean a lot of worry and sleepless nights.
Decades ago, thousands of people in the U.S. would die from pertussis, or whooping cough, each year. Then, a vaccine was developed.
Since the first vaccine for smallpox was discovered in 1796, our society has become serious about ending vaccine-preventable diseases. Our state’s immunization laws changed in 2016 and parents can no longer decline vaccinations for their children, based on personal beliefs.
Public school students are required to prove they’re up-to-date on vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, chickenpox, tetanus and pertussis at benchmark years of kindergarten and seventh-grade. ShotsForSchool.org will tell you which immunizations are required at what age.
And what has that meant for us? While we remain a little below the state average of 95.6 percent, we are pleased that the percentage of Placer County students entering kindergarten with all their required immunizations has increased from 88.8 to 92.4 in just a single year.
For seventh-graders, we’ve risen to 96.7 percent. We applaud the many families who are making the important decision to vaccinate their children and conscientious health care professionals who are ensuring that their patients are fully protected.
But there is still a lot of work to be done. We’ve already had more than two dozen cases of whooping cough so far this year in Placer County. The disease is very contagious and can lead to serious illness, especially in babies who aren’t fully vaccinated. Infants less than 6 months old who get whooping cough are at greater risk of hospitalization, pneumonia, seizures, encephalopathy and yes — death.
If you’ve already vaccinated your children, kudos! If not, however, there are many opportunities. We recommend you start by giving your pediatrician a call. If he or she can’t assist you, many pharmacies offer immunization appointments. We’ll also be working with our partners at Western Sierra Medical Clinic and Chapa-De Indian Health to offer clinics in Auburn on Wednesday and Aug. 31 for children without insurance or who are eligible for Medi-Cal. Visit placer.ca.gov/immunization to learn more.
There are so many things to worry about as a new school year begins. Don’t let preventable disease be one of them. The peace of mind that comes with immunization is priceless. Be well, Placer.
Dr. Robert Oldham is Placer County’s public health officer. Contact his office at (530) 889-7141 for more information.