San Francisco to fight whooping cough epidemic by making unvax'd kids stay home

Sara - posted on 08/18/2010 ( 20 moms have responded )




As kids in San Francisco this week head back to school from summer vacation, the public health department plans to fight the spread of whooping cough by ordering children who have not been immunized to stay home if their classmates get sick.

"We're going to potentially exclude kids from school who are not up-to-date on their vaccinations and who are in a setting where there is a high number of kids who aren't vaccinated and there are cases of whooping cough," said Dr. Susan Fernyak, director of communicable disease control and prevention for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

With a statwide epidemic of whooping cough underway, San Francisco had seen 50 cases of pertussis as of August 10, while last year the city only recorded 16 cases for the entire year. In 2008, 79.3 percent of kindergartners in San Francisco were up-to-date on their vaccinations, which means about 20 percent were not protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Last spring, as the pertussis epidemic began, some schools in San Francisco were hit harder than others. "There were a few schools that had a larger number of cases than you would normally expect," said Dr. Fernyak. "Some of those schools did have specific classrooms with low vaccination rates, where 40 percent of the kids weren't up to date with their immunizations."

Whooping cough is among the required vaccinations for entering kindergarten, but the school district will give a waiver to children whose parents request a "personal belief exemption" and opt out of immunizing their child.

Exemption rates vary widely from school-to-school even within the same county. For instance, in 2009, 68 percent of kindergartners at the private San Francisco Walforf School were not up-to-date on their immunizations due to a personal belief exemption, while at the public Malcolm X Academy, 0 percent had such an exemption.

In the spring, public health officials tried to control the spread of the disease by instructing schools with confirmed cases to send home students who were coughing. But that policy wasn't well enforced, as more kids from the same classrooms kept turning up with whooping cough. "That strategy clearly did not work," said Dr. Fernyak. So, San Francisco decided to adopt the tougher policy this semester of actually ordering childern who are especially vulnerable to infection to stay away when cases break out.

Kids who are impacted by the new policy could potentially miss a lot of class. "The incubation period for pertussis is up to 21 days," said Dr. Fernayk. "If you’re an unvaccinated kid in a classroom with several cases of pertussis, and you were sent home, you could potentially be at home for 21 days, and maybe longer if there are on-going cases in your classroom." San Francisco last adopted a similiar policy for schools and daycare centers when there was an outbreak of measles about a year and a half ago.

Health officials are concerned not only about the health of unvaccinated children who might contract pertussis, but for their younger siblings or expectant mothers. The epidemic has killed seven children in California this year, all of them infants under three months of age.

Do you agree with the policy?


Charlie - posted on 08/18/2010




Can we add to the policy , all unvaxed children and their parents be shipped to an isolated island for good so no more babies needlessly die ?

Tara - posted on 08/18/2010




Yeppers. And I can't see why any parent who chooses not to vaccinate their child would argue with this policy. It's going to protect their children and other family members from a potentially fatal disease that they could have given them a vaccine for.
If the kids miss school than the parents should be willing to teach them at home during that time or provide a tutor for them so that their education does not suffer as a result of their choice.
I know many homeschooling parents who choose not to vaccinate for a variety of reasons, one of them contracted measles last year and was very very sick. It's not worth the risk in my opinion.

Barbara - posted on 08/18/2010




I didn't plan on vaccinating at first, but then I did some more research. Once you've gotten the whole story, not just the story they tell you in those natural parenting books, I don't see how you can not vaccinate your kids. For their sake and everyone else's sake, too.

Sara - posted on 08/18/2010




Also, from what I've read in articles one of the main groups spreading the disease is adults who are not up to date on their boosters. The whooping cough booster only became available in 2005, so many adults don't even know there is one. All of the 7 infants who died were under 3 months old. Some may have had the first vaccine of the series, but the series isn't complete until you get 3 shots

Sara - posted on 08/18/2010




IMO, this is one of the responsibilities you accept when you opt out of any vaccine - to keep your child home and quarantine them to the very best of your ability in cases like this.

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Barbara - posted on 08/19/2010




My son got chickenpox while we were still on the fence about letting him get that vaccine. It was horrible! He was miserable for days and he's got permanent scars from the whole thing. Did you know that chickenpox is infectious for up to two weeks before the kid even gets one spot? So for two weeks, everywhere we went we were potentially infecting other people before we even knew he had them. Oops! Won't make that mistake twice.

Lyndsay - posted on 08/19/2010




As well they should. Yes, parents have the right to decide whether or not to vaccinate their children... BUT when it comes to protecting the health of these children, especially in an epidemic, those rights should come with consequences. Not only that, but what if an unvaccinated child picks up the illness and carries it along to other children? Like babies, who haven't had their vaccines yet... or kids who have been sick and haven't been able to stick to the routine schedule?

Amie - posted on 08/19/2010




I'd keep my vacc'd kids home, never mind unvacc'd ones.

Over the years my kids have been exposed to chicken pox, whooping cough, rubella (german measles) and crap, I forgot the last one! All things that can be vacc'd for but still were spread around.

I remember the whooping cough one the most, our oldest was in daycare. One of the parents sent their kid with it to daycare. The daycare provider kicked that family out of the daycare and sent home notices to all the families. I took our daughter in to get tested, they shoved this big cotton swab up her nose. She was not pleased and neither was I. If the parents would have taken the time to keep their child home instead of sending them out to infect others around them, it would have been an unpleasant experience avoided for my child and others.

Julie - posted on 08/19/2010




Agreed. A huge part of vaccination is to create a "ring of protection" ie properly vaccinated individuals around those who are too young or infirm to be protected.

Jessica - posted on 08/19/2010




I my children don't recieve vaccinations and I see nothing wrong with this. I would have no problem keeping my children home.

On a side note, if you are in an area where there is a pertussis outbreak and you send your child to school with a cough that's just ignorant.

Stifler's - posted on 08/19/2010




They should definitely make vaccination mandatory. And refuse enrollment to people without it.

Jessica - posted on 08/18/2010




How sad :( People get so caught up in all these potential, supposed risks with vaccines that they forget how deadly the diseases they protect us from can actually be!

Ez - posted on 08/18/2010




Totally agree with a policy like this. It protects everyone.. the unvaxed, and the too young and too sick.

We've had several Whooping Cough epidemics here in Aus over the last couple of years. The government then took steps to promote boosters to parents and caregivers of newborns, and Boostrix is now offered free at any GP office.

[deleted account]

Sorry, TOTALLY agree. I personally don't think children should even be allowed to attend school without proof of up-to-date vaccinations.

*ducks and runs for cover*

Caitlin - posted on 08/18/2010




I'm just waiting for someone to say "it's discrimination because of my "personal beliefs" not to vaccinate and therefore infringes on my human rights...

Lindsay - posted on 08/18/2010




Welp, not much of a debate here. I can't see where anyone could argue that they are just trying to keep everyone safe. I also think the parents of these children should be required to keep their school work up while they are out of school. Otherwise, when they come back and have to be taught what they missed, it's going to pull everyone behind.

[deleted account]

I don't see anything wrong with this! I would be devastated if my infant died because of pertussis! They are too young to get the vaccine and rely on the rest of the population getting it! Large outbreaks is one of the problems with anti-vaccine ppl. There are often groups of them in areas, like the article discusses, and this causes large outbreaks of preventable diseases! I think CA is being proactive and still respectful of ppl's right to vaccinate or not. If it were me I'd kick them all out of school until they are up-to-date on their vacs! On that note...they should also make it req'd that teachers, daycare workers, etc are also up-to-date on their pertussis vaccine!

ME - posted on 08/18/2010




how sad that the anti-vax issue has resulted in so many deaths! I can't see any reason to disagree with the policy in question here...protects everyone...particularly the children who's parents have chosen not to vaccinate them against these (often deadly) illnesses!

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