Free vaccines offered to adults to stop spread of pertussis
SNOHOMISH COUNTY - Health authorities are urging adults to get vaccinated for pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, for the safety of children.
Pertussis is harmful to adults, but can be deadly to infants. Last year, the death of one of two infants in the state from pertussis happened in Snohomish County.
“This is a necessary vaccine to receive so children are protected from this disease,” said Tim McDonald, communicable diseases division director with the Snohomish Health District, last week.
Health authorities say the number of pertussis cases since 2011 are at epidemic levels. The health district typically sees 25 cases of pertussis in a normal year. Last year, it saw 225 cases, and so far this year there have been 72 cases.
Nationally, less than 10 percent of the adult population is vaccinated against it; part of that is because an adult vaccination for pertussis called Tdap is a recent development.
Tdap stands for “tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis,” but not all tetanus shots have the pertussis vaccine in them. Only one Tdap vaccine is recommended in a person’s lifetime.
A common misperception is that childhood immunizations against pertussis are enough, but vaccinations’ effectiveness wane over time, McDonald said.
The Snohomish Health District organized two free adult vaccination clinics Saturday, Feb. 4 to give out 450 doses of pertussis shots. The clinics administered 350 shots.
The district is working to set up another clinic to dispense the remaining doses soon, McDonald said. The district also is working on obtaining more vaccines.
“Believe me, those vaccines will not go to waste,” district spokeswoman Suzanne Pate said last week.
The signs of pertussis are very similar to a cold or flu. Not everyone experiences the tell-tale “whooping” sound during coughing fits, district immunization clinic manager Rita Mell said. The whooping sound is caused by people gasping for air.
Pertussis is a highly contagious disease. It is as easily spreadable as a cold or flu, Mell said.
“The bacteria in the nose and throat can be spread by sneezes, even if talking,” Mell said.
Infants are much more vulnerable to pertussis because they have not built up immunity to it. To date, eight infants in Snohomish County have been hospitalized for pertussis, the district reported.
Health authorities encourage child care workers, parents and grandparents to especially get the Tdap vaccine.
The district’s two clinics, Sea Mar clinics and the Community Health Center of Snohomish County offer the Tdap vaccine at a reduced cost. The health district’s next free clinic has yet to be announced as of last week.
All recommended vaccines are offered to all kids under age 19 at no cost through health care provider offices participating in the state’s Childhood Vaccine Program, according to the state Department of Health. Health care providers may charge an office visit fee and an administration fee to give the vaccine. People who cannot afford the administration fee can ask their regular health care provider to waive the cost. Adults should talk to their insurance carriers about coverage for the pertussis vaccine.
In 2011, there were 912 cases of pertussis statewide. Snohomish County had the highest quantity of cases, but three other counties had higher rates of cases per capita, according to state Department of Health figures.
By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published Feb. 15, 2012