Palo Alto Medical Foundation Newsroom

PAMF Reaches out to Parents on New California Pertussis Vaccine Requirement

Pertussis (whooping cough) has reached epidemic proportions in California, prompting a new California state law that requires all students entering the 7th through 12th grades to provide proof of having received a booster vaccination (called Tdap) against the disease.

In February 2011, the State Superintendent of Education, Tom Torlakson, sent a letter to schools informing them about this immunization requirement. Many San Francisco Bay Area school districts in turn contacted parents about this required booster.

“PAMF has tens of thousands of pediatric patients, so we anticipated an increase in calls from parents requesting their child’s immunization records,” said Kathy Korbholz, PAMF vice president of Ancillary Operations. “We coordinated a mass mailing to the parents of all PAMF pediatric patients who are affected by the new law.”

In February and March, approximately 60,000 letters were sent either confirming that the patient had received the booster or informing them that the booster was needed. PAMF used its electronic health records to determine whether a patient had or hadn’t received a Tdap booster at one of its clinics.

This PAMF mailing to parents filled three pressing needs:

  • Each confirmation letter contained details of the child’s immunization so it could be provided to the child’s school as proof of his or her immunization.
  •  If a child’s records indicated that a child had not received the Tdap booster, PAMF sent a different letter encouraging parents to make an appointment for the child to receive the booster.
  • Providing proof of the booster made it easy for thousands of families, while also freeing staff to focus on patient care rather than fulfilling numerous individual document requests.

“A number of parents have already contacted us to thank us for making this process so easy for them,” said Korbholz. “Also, a physician with the California Department of Health Services saw the letter and is now using it as an example of proactive patient communications throughout California.”

The deadline for submitting proof of the Tdap booster isn’t until September 2011, so even if a child needs to get the booster, there is sufficient time to do so.

“We are well prepared to manage any increase in appointments to receive this vaccination,” Korbholz explained. “In recent years, the H1N1 and other flu viruses have also called for expeditious communications with our patients. What differentiated this effort was the personalization and scale of the communication.”

About the Tdap Booster

There is no stand-alone pertussis vaccine, so it is combined with two other vaccines. Tdap stands for:

T: tetanus

D: diphtheria

AP: acellular pertussis

Neither the pertussis vaccine nor natural infection gives a person life-long immunity to whooping cough. Immunity decreases with time. The push to get the booster for the 7th to 12th grade age group is because their immunity is most likely to have lapsed.

The Tdap booster is safe; it does not cause the disease, and serious reactions or side effects are very rare.

About Pertussis

Pertussis is caused by a bacterium (Bordetella pertussis) that is highly contagious and spread through the air by infectious drop­lets. Pertussis can be a severe illness, causing prolonged coughing spells that can persist for weeks. The coughing spells can make it difficult for a person to eat, drink and breathe. In infants, it can also cause pneumonia and lead to brain damage, seizures and mental retardation, even death.

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