About 350 seventh-graders across the Beaufort County School District could be sent home Sept. 20 if they don't have a booster shot for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, school officials said.
A new regulation required all South Carolina seventh-graders to have the booster before returning to school in August, but many families were given 30-day extensions, district spokesman Jim Foster said.
Those extensions expire Sept. 20, and Foster said any seventh-grader who has not provided proof of the Tdap immunization by then will not be allowed to attend school.
"The deadline is real and it's next Friday, and those students without it are not going to be allowed into school," Foster said.
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The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control will have a free walk-in clinic Saturday to help parents make sure their students get the vaccination. The clinic will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Okatie Elementary School at 53 Cherry Point Road.
DHEC staff will have enough boosters to immunize 300 seventh-graders, according to the school district.
The agency is offering the special clinic because two DHEC clinics in Beaufort and Bluffton this week were booked, Foster said.
"There was a concern that when we put this number out and reminded people of the deadline, they wouldn't be able to get the shots since the other clinics are already full," he said.
There are still several openings at a Sept. 16 clinic at the Hampton County DHEC office and a Sept. 19 clinic at the Bluffton DHEC Office. At these clinics, students can get the booster shots for $13, the district said.
They also can get the vaccine from their family physicians or at some local businesses and pharmacies if they have a prescription.
Foster said parents who have not yet provided proof of the shot were notified of the deadline by mail and phone last weekend.
Most infants get the Tdap vaccination, but its protection fades as children age, said Dr. Riyadh Muhammad, DHEC pediatrician and medical consultant. All three of the infections covered under the shot are dangerous, but Muhammad said whooping cough, or pertussis, is the disease DHEC most hopes to prevent.
"This is a state requirement, and there's no wiggle room left," the district's chief of student services, Gregory McCord, said. "Parents need to make sure that their seventh-graders have the Tdap vaccinations that are required by the state -- and DHEC's much-appreciated free clinic this Saturday is a way to get that done at no cost to parents."
There were 230 cases of whooping cough reported across South Carolina last year, the majority in patients between the ages of 10 and 17, Muhammad said. In 2011, only 141 cases were reported.
Through June, 101 cases of whooping cough have been reported this year.
"We are having an above-average year this year compared to past years, and it's looking concerning at this point," Muhammad has said. "The more people we can get covered with the booster shot, hopefully we can bring these numbers down."
This new immunization requirement brings the state in line with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.