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IOWA CITY, Iowa – There's something extra on the back-to-school list for Iowa 7th graders.
Starting this 2013/2014 school year, Iowa students enrolling in 7th grade are required to have a tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine or Tdap booster shot. Public Health officials said a Tdap booster is also recommended, but not required, for 8th through 12th graders. When they were young, kids got a handful of doses of the vaccine, but this booster comes as health leaders noticed the protection against pertussis wore out over time.
Recent Pertussis, or whooping cough, outbreaks caused state health leaders to take action to prevent its spread. It's a bacterial infection in infants all the way up to adults and causes painful spasms of coughing. State health official said pertussis outbreaks are cyclical with an increase every 3 to 5 years. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, in 2010, Iowa saw 705 cases, in 2011, the state had 232 cases and in 2012 the number jumped to 1,647. The majority of cases occurred in kids ten to fourteen years old.
Carrie McKnight is enjoying her free time at a baseball game. Just about eight months ago that was out of the question because she was caring for sick kids.
"Two days before Thanksgiving we were notified by the school that my son had been exposed to pertussis. And I just thought, 'Well Gosh, he has been coughing for the last 12/13 days'," McNight said.
Her kids, Cameron and Keira, had both tested positive for whooping cough. Now the kids are happy and healthy.
The Iowa Department of Public Health is starting to implement new rules this school year to keep more kids from getting sick and to prevent future outbreaks.
"All incoming 7th graders must have had a TDAP booster vaccine, which came to be because of the outbreaks that we've had with pertussis over the years," said Director of Health and Student Services for the Iowa City Community School District Susie Poulton.
Poulton said the district saw 40 cases of pertussis last year. She believes the change in vaccine requirements will help.
"We haven't had a change in quite some time, many, many years that there has been an additional vaccine required," Poulton said.
Johnson County public health officials believe many students received a Tdap booster as the outbreaks started happening.
"I don't anticipate we're going to have an overwhelming rush of folks trying to get it but there will probably be an uptick. I know here at the health department we are willing to expand our hours," said Johnson County Public Health Director Doug Beardsley.
As for McKnight, she's hopeful this new vaccine requirement will help other families in the future.
"I think that it if can spare people what we went through, I think it's a good thing," McNight said.
The Iowa Department of Public Health said prior to this move, the state was one of only ten states without a Tdap mandate at the secondary level. Iowa City Schools Health Director says families will have some time to make sure they're falling in line with the new requirement.