Nearly 90 percent of students heading into seventh grade at Genoa Middle School in the fall need to get mandated Tdap booster shots.
The state began requiring the booster shot at the teen level about four years ago. The Tdap immunization is a combination vaccine that protects against three bacterial illnesses – tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).
Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. In many people, it’s marked by a severe hacking cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like “whoop.”
It’s the rise in the number of whooping cough cases nationwide that led to the proactive immunization requirement at the middle school level, Genoa Schools nurse Joanie Brunkhorst said. Students cannot return to school without evidence of having received the shot.
The school year ended May 29 with 124 sixth-graders roaming the halls of Genoa Middle School.
“I’d say we only have about 10 percent done,” Brunkhorst said days before the 2012-13 school year came to a close. “But the information is out there. They are aware of it.”
More than 41,000 whooping cough cases were reported last year across the country, a 50-year high, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. In nearby Michigan, a whooping cough outbreak persists, the Detroit News reports, affecting 25 middle and high school students in May alone.
Long before summer break began, Genoa administrations and the nursing staff undertook a multi-level campaign to get the word out about the vaccine’s necessity. Letters were sent home with grade cards, a story was published in the Comet Communicator and reminders were sent to parents via the Honeywell Alert System linked to their personal telephones and cell phones, Brunkhorst explained.
“It’s mostly about the whooping cough. But the tetanus should carry them through their college years,” she added.
Whooping cough had once been considered eradicated in the United States.
However, the caseload has climbed in the last decade as parents choose to opt out of the vaccines based on medical and religious exemptions, recent studies have shown.
Before the vaccine was developed, whooping cough was considered a childhood disease. Now whooping cough primarily affects children too young to have completed the full course of vaccinations as well as teens and adults whose immunity has faded, health officials say.
Tdap vaccines are available through family physicians, the Ottawa County Health Department (419-734-6800) and Shots-for-Tots (419-213-4121). The Shots-for-Tots program requires a parent to accompany the child, presentation of immunization records, however, no appointment is needed. The health department also requires a parent on site, the previous shot documentation as well as an appointment.
The Ottawa County Health Department runs a series of weekly health clinics throughout the year, but Diane Kokinda, the department’s director of nursing, cautions families not to wait too long to make an appointment.
“The schedule will start filling up fast, especially as it gets close to the start of the new school year,” she said.