Despite months of aggressive campaigning by school officials, thousands of local students will start their first day of school without a whooping cough vaccination.
Only about 30% of middle and high school age students in Fresno Unified and 50% of secondary schools students at Madera Unified have complied with a new state law that requires a whooping cough booster shot after age 11 in order to start school. In Central Unified, where instruction begins this week, the compliance rate is 77%.
Clovis Unified officials said Monday they did not have updated figures available.
Compliance throughout the state has been so dismal that Gov. Jerry Brown recently ordered a 30-day grace period from the beginning of each school's fall term to give parents more time to get their children vaccinated.
The stakes are high. The law mandates that if middle and high schoolers don't get the shot by the end of their first month in school, they won't be allowed to attend classes.
While many parents know about rules requiring whooping cough, measles and other vaccinations before children start kindergarten, the rules requiring boosters are new.
"It's been confusing for many parents," said Patricia Gomes, Central Unified's coordinator of health services. "They understand that they have to have it before they go into kindergarten but they don't understand that the law states they need to have a second shot."
So local districts have been trying to spread the word since January, setting up free mobile clinics, mailing reminder postcards and dialing thousands of automated phone calls.
In Fresno Unified, officials even offered pizza parties and raffled off gasoline gift cards at each school to boost compliance.
Many parents still are waiting until the last minute. A mobile clinic run by the district and Kaiser Permanente gave out 350 shots last weekend. Another clinic is scheduled at Manchester Center for this weekend.
"We've been very aggressive about it," said Susan Bedi, a Fresno Unified spokeswoman. "We're holding some kind of an event nearly every week."
Central Unified, like Fresno, has held an immunization clinic each month since January.
"We haven't had as many parents take advantage of it as we expected," Gomes said.
Many families are finding ways to get the shots on their own. At the Fresno Children's Medical Group in northeast Fresno, Sheri Hamett, the clinic's office manager, said her office has been busy with appointments over the past few weeks.
"No one has called us in panic mode yet, but it's been busy," she said.
Local district officials say they are optimistic that most students will make the deadline.
"I think that it's going to get a lot better – the 30-day extension was a great service," said Jake Bragonier, a spokesman for Madera Unified. "But there are still parents who still may not have heard the message."