FAQs for Parents

(updated May 10, 2013)

Requirements and Documentation

Diseases and Vaccines

Exemptions and Special Cases


Tdap Requirement and Documentation

What is the pertussis booster requirement?

  • All students entering, advancing or transferring into 7th grade need proof of an adolescent whooping cough booster immunization (called “Tdap”).

What is Tdap and what are the diseases that the Tdap vaccine prevents?
Tdap is a booster vaccine for older children, adolescents, and adults. It safely protects against 3 dangerous diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough (also called pertussis).

  • Pertussis – also known as whooping cough, is a contagious disease that causes violent coughing fits that make it hard to breathe. It spreads easily when someone with the disease coughs or sneezes. The symptoms can last for months. Whooping cough is particularly dangerous for young babies.
  • Tetanus – causes a severe, painful tightening (spasms) of muscles, including of the jaw (‘lockjaw’), which can limit swallowing and breathing.
  • Diphtheria – is a throat infection that can lead to breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure and death.

Do ALL 7th grade students need to get the pertussis immunization?
Yes. Unless they have an exemption, all students going into 7th grade must have proof of having had the Tdap booster shot. This includes current students, new students and transfer students in both public and private schools. Many students have already received the vaccine and simply need to supply proof to the school, so check with your doctor or provider.

Why is the Tdap vaccine required?
This requirement will help protect your child and others in your school and community from whooping cough. Whooping cough is a serious disease that causes coughing fits that can last for months. In recent years, whooping cough has been increasing in the United States. Whooping cough has been widespread in California and was responsible for 10 infant deaths in 2010.

Why does my child need Tdap?
In addition to it being a requirement for school, children who get a Tdap booster shot will be better protected during their school years. Immunization also helps to protect others within the home, in the community, and at school. Immunizations help prevent school closures. Many schools in California have suffered from outbreaks of whooping cough. Students got very sick and parents missed work and lost wages to care for their sick children. In some cases, schools had to close because there were not enough healthy teachers to keep schools open.

When should my child get vaccinated with Tdap?
Now. Unimmunized children are at risk for catching pertussis, getting really sick and missing weeks of school. Besides protecting your child, you can also beat the back-to-school rush by making an appointment for your incoming 7th grader to get a Tdap booster shot now. Keep documentation of your child’s Tdap booster shot in a safe place. Your child will need proof of immunization for school. Check with your school about how and when to submit the documentation.

What if my child had whooping cough recently or in the past?
Any protection (immunity) developed after having whooping cough disease wears off, leaving your child at risk for getting whooping cough again. A pertussis booster shot is needed to both protect your child in the future and to meet the school requirement. A Tdap dose administered on or after the 7th birthday will meet the requirement.

Instead of getting a Tdap booster to meet the requirement, can a student get a blood test to check for protection (immunity) against pertussis?
No. Testing for immunity to pertussis is not reliable and will not meet the school requirement.

What if my child does not have proof of a Tdap shot before school starts?
Your child will not be able to start school until you submit the documentation for the Tdap requirement to the school.

Is there a grace period/extension to get the shot AFTER school starts?
No. As of now, there is no grace period or extension. Under current law, schools do not have the option to provide a grace period. All 7th grade students need to show proof of Tdap immunization or submit an exemption before starting school.

Should parents and others at home get the Tdap vaccine?
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) recommends that parents and other adults and adolescents at home get vaccinated with Tdap now if they haven’t done so already. Immunization also helps to protect close contacts, including young infants for whom pertussis is most severe and sometimes fatal.

How long do you have to wait after your last tetanus shot before getting Tdap?
According to state and national recommendations, the dose of Tdap required for the school law may be given at any time after the last tetanus shot.

How soon does the Tdap vaccine work?
Typically 1-2 weeks after the injection.

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Diseases and Vaccines

What immunizations are required for my children to attend school?
Some, but not all, recommended childhood vaccines are required by California law and regulations in order to attend school. Under the California School Immunization Law (California Health and Safety Code, Sections 120325-120375), to protect the public’s health, children are required to receive certain immunizations in order to attend public and private elementary and secondary schools, child care centers, family day care homes, nursery schools, day nurseries and developmental centers. Immunizations required to attend Kindergarten: Polio, DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), measles-containing vaccine (e.g. MMR), Hepatitis B, and Varicella Immunization required to enter 7th grade: Tdap (pertussis booster).

What is the “recommended” immunization schedule?
The recommended schedule lists the age or age range when each vaccine or series of shots is recommended. The pediatric immunization recommendations in the United States are developed by the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), typically in coordination with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). You can see the most current schedule on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules/child-schedule.htm.

What other immunizations should I consider for my child?
The recommended vaccine schedule for children may be found at www.getimmunizedca.org. In addition to routine baby shots, preteens and teens also need the following vaccines:

  • Tdap to protect against pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria
  • One dose against meningococcal disease (brain or blood infection) at age 11 or 12 and a booster dose at age 16 years
  • Yearly immunization against flu (influenza)
  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) 3 shot series

Make sure your children are also up-to-date on their childhood immunizations including two doses against chickenpox (if they have never had chickenpox disease) and two doses of immunization against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). Talk with your healthcare provider for more information.

Where can my child get vaccinated?
Children should visit their regular doctor or health care provider to get their Tdap shot and other immunizations as soon as possible to avoid the back-to-school rush. The Vaccines for Children Program (VFC) offers free or low cost vaccines for eligible patients 18 years and younger. If your child/student is eligible for Medi-Cal, you can find a VFC provider near you by visiting http://shotsforschool.org/parentinfo/#vfc_locations or calling 1-877-243-8832. For uninsured or underinsured patients, parents can find a list of federally qualified health centers in their area at  http://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/Search_HCC.aspx. Some local health departments and pharmacies may also offer the Tdap vaccine and other immunizations. For more information, please contact your local health department.

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Exemptions and Special Cases

Are immunization exemptions allowed under California law?
Yes, California law allows immunization exemptions. Exemptions to immunization should not be taken because of convenience. Unimmunized students are at greater risk of contracting diseases and spreading them to their families, schools and communities.

What exemptions are permitted by California law?
California law describes two exemptions to student immunization requirements:

  • Personal Beliefs Exemption: A parent or guardian may have a child exempted from required immunizations if immunization is contrary to his/her beliefs. Schools have standardized procedures for parents and guardians who request a personal beliefs exemption. Exemptions to immunization should not be taken because of convenience. Unimmunized students are at greater risk of contracting diseases and spreading them to their families, schools and communities. Schools should maintain an up-to-date list of students with exemptions, so that these students can be excluded from school quickly if an outbreak occurs.
  • Medical exemptions: Physicians (MD or DO) may grant in writing an exemption for students for whom immunizations are not medically indicated, which occurs infrequently.

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