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Bill may extend deadline for whooping cough immunizations

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Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 7:26 am, Thu Jul 14, 2011.

A law expected to be heard on the State Senate floor today could extend a whooping cough immunization deadline set by the state last year.

That's welcome news to local school districts whose students have been slow to comply with a new rule that goes into effect on the first day of school.

If approved, the change will grant districts 30 extra days after classes begin to verify vaccinations of all sevenththrough 12th-grade students. A new law requires the booster for that age group.

The state's middle and high schools face the prospect of having to certify the vaccination records of up to 3 million students, one of the largest such efforts in California history.

According to data from the California Association of School Business Officials, which has pushed for the deadline extension, some districts had proof of immunization for only 5 percent of their middle and high school students as of late June. At the year-round high schools that opened last week in the Los Angeles Unified district, approximately 50 percent of students had boosters.

The figure is approximately the same for Lodi Unified School District and Galt Joint Union Elementary School District.

But only 28 percent of students in the Galt Joint Union High School District have complied as of Wednesday, according to Superintendent Daisy Lee.

"Unfortunately, we are not unique in this situation," she said in an email.

Since last December, the district has been sending flyers and letters home in both English and Spanish, making ConnectEd phone calls every other month, posting flyers at schools and sending email messages home.

Meanwhile, the Galt elementary district is holding a free booster immunization clinic next month.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 17 in McCaffrey Middle School's multi-purpose room, 997 Park Terrace Drive, 300 doses will be available. A parent or guardian must accompany student.

Lee said a similar paid clinic is in the works on the first day of school at the district office.

The original legislation, which was approved last fall and took effect July 1, requires schools to turn away any middle or high school student who has not received a whooping cough booster shot or had a parent sign an exemption form on the first day of school. This could cost districts millions of dollars in crucial state funding received for daily attendance.

Public health and school officials agree the booster requirement is an important step in preventing the spread of a once-forgotten disease that last year reached epidemic levels in the state. In 2010, more than 9,100 Californians fell ill with whooping cough, the largest number since 1947.

So far this year, there have been 1,428 confirmed cases reported to the California Department of Public Health, with just nine in San Joaquin County. The most severely hit county this year is San Diego, with 214 cases.

The bill to extend the deadline, Senate Bill 614 by Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, was unanimously approved Monday by the Assembly Health Committee.

Locally, private health care providers have reported a wait of up to three weeks for a vaccination appointment, but the county public health department provides immunization clinics in Lodi. For more information, call 800-839-4949 or visit www.sjc phs.org/Clinic/clinical_services.htm.

The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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