The back-to-school checklist for the modern student includes pencils, notebooks, tablet computers and — for some students — up-to-date immunizations.
California law requires that all students entering kindergarten must have received their second MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) shot, DTaP vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) and final polio vaccine. All students entering seventh grade must have an updated Tdap booster immunization, which provides continued protection from diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, also known as whooping cough.
According to Dr. Howard Smart, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, whooping cough continues to be a problem for the most vulnerable Californians. More cases were reported in 2015 than in any year since the 1950s.
"Whooping cough isn't dangerous if you are 12, but if you cough on other people's babies, those are the ones who can die," he says, pointing out that nine of the 10 babies who died in 2010 (the first year of the current epidemic) were under the age of the first vaccination.
Beginning July 1, 2016, all California students must have updated immunizations to enroll in any public or private school, unless they have a medical exemption. The "personal belief exemption" no longer allows parents to opt out or modify the vaccination schedule, although students are only required to show proof of immunization when changing schools or grade span.
Dr. Smart often finds that parents with concerns about the recommended series of vaccines rely on information that might not be up-to-date.
"Often their concerns are about the measles and autism. There is so much evidence that the MMR vaccine is not related to autism, I try to get that out of the way," he says. "Sometimes they are worried about giving too many shots at once, but there are many studies showing that's not true either."
Dr. Smart encourages parents to speak honestly with their child's pediatrician, who can hear and answer their questions, and to refer to scientifically accurate literature when reading up on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
For more information about how the new rules apply to schools and students, visit the California Department of Health.